Taxidermists work on the carcass of a rare gaur suspected of being the target of a ìcontract hitî.
The carcass of a globally-threatened species of indigenous wild cattle being stuffed
behind the National Museum allegedly at the order of a Ratanakiri provincial official
has generated concern among Phnom Penh-based conservation groups.
The Post discovered the carcass of the gaur, or Bos gaurus, on March 26 in a shed
at the Department of Arts, Plastiques and Artisanats (DAPA).
The two taxidermists stuffing the dead animal, which had multiple gunshot wounds
in its hind quarters, told the Post that the animal was being stuffed at the request
of a high official in Ratanakiri, who planned to mount it in his home. The two men
refused to give the official's name.
The gaur, along with Cambodia's sole surviving other indigenous wild cattle species
the banteng, are both internationally classified in the Globally Threatened - Vulnerable
category. The kouprey, a wild cattle species declared by King Norodom Sihanouk as
Cambodia's "national animal" in the 1960s, has not been seen in the wild
for more than three decades and is believed to be extinct.
Gaur range from India to Vietnam and are hunted widely for their meat and for trophy
purposes, with their horns particularly prized.
"Hunters in Ratanakiri traditionally hunt gaur for their horns, which can be
sold for up to $100 a set," said Ratanakiri's Virachey National Park Director
Joe Walston of the Phnom Penh office of the World Conservation Society (WCS), says
the presence of the animal's carcass at DAPA indicated the violation of at least
three of Cambodia's wildlife protection laws.
"According to current wildlife laws it's illegal to kill, transport or purchase
endangered species," Walston said.
Walston was particularly disturbed by suggestions that the gaur had been killed and
ordered stuffed at the request of a provincial government official.
"If that is the case, it's not a good symbol for official efforts to conserve
Cambodian wildlife and makes it more difficult to encourage local hunters not to
shoot endangered species," he said.
When contacted by the Post on March 28, Ratanakiri Governor Kham Khoeun rejected
suggestions that he or any other Ratanakiri officials might have been responsible
for the shooting and stuffing of the dead gaur.
"Whoever said this gaur might belong to me is completely making it up and unfairly
blaming us for something we haven't done," Khoen said by telephone.
However, Barney Long of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) suggested that the
gaur had fallen victim to a "contract hit".
"We frequently see carcasses of gaur and banteng in the forests... they commonly
have had some meat cut off them and their horns removed," Long said. "Someone
must have specifically ordered that this gaur be killed and taken to Phnom Penh to
Ung Ming Sing, Director of the Arts Plastiques Faculty of the University of Fine
Arts adjacent to DAPA, told the Post that the unlucky gaur currently being stuffed
was far from the first endangered animal to meet the same fate.
"People know that it's illegal for this kind of work to be done, but when a
high official requests [it] it's very difficult for DAPA to refuse," Ming Sing
Sun Heng, Deputy Chief of the Wildlife Protection Office, said that the only legal
pretext for killing and stuffing a gaur was "provincial need", such as
for use in a museum. The WPO would investigate the case and if it was found to have
been shot and smuggled for personal use would be confiscated and donated to Takhmau