By: Phak Seangly and Alice Cuddy
Police in Ratanakkiri province’s Banlung town yesterday raided a popular market where they seized nearly 20 kilograms of illegal wildlife meat, according to officials.
Nouv Dara, chief of the provincial Anti-Economic Crime Office, said the action was prompted by a Post investigation into the province’s illicit trade, published yesterday.
Dara, who led the raid, said the meat was recovered from multiple stalls and sent directly to the provincial Forestry Administration office, but the vendors behind the produce were still at large.
“When they saw us coming, the sellers escaped,” he said, adding that police were seeking their arrest for “re-education” and further penalties.
Meats confiscated in yesterday’s raid included wild pig, lizard, turtle, sambar and red muntjac deer.
All wildlife is classified as state property in Cambodia, and trading in it is illegal.
At the market last week, vendor Wai Sokheng was openly selling meat that included rare and endangered species. Sokheng said she knew she was acting outside of the law but had “no choice”.
Other vendors were seen in the market and elsewhere in the province selling a range of wildlife meat.
Tracy Farrell, senior technical director at Conservation International’s Greater Mekong Program, said the NGO sees people openly selling and eating poached wildlife and “talking openly and freely [about it] everywhere in Ratanakkiri”.
At the market, Sokheng said in an interview that she and other vendors pay the anti-economic crime police monthly bribes that allow them to trade so publicly, but Dara, the unit’s chief, dismissed the allegations.
“I don’t know anything about this, [and] anyone doing it will be punished by law,” he said.
Dara added that the market can expect more raids in the future. “We will go to crack down [again],” he said.
Nick Marx, director of wildlife rescue and care at local NGO Wildlife Alliance, which has launched multiple raids of its own at the market, said it is vital that such action is taken.
“It is essential that the illegal trade is stopped,” he said.
Marx added that, in Wildlife Alliance’s experience, vendors caught in such raids often re-offend, meaning that efforts by the police need to continue if the trade is to be stamped out.
Aside from targeting the vendors, he said there needed to be “stricter controls on hunting and on hunting implements”, as well as greater education about the importance of preserving wildlife.
Cheam Sopheat, the manager of Banlung Market, said it was “damn difficult” to control the trade because many vendors “sell secretively”.
Sopheat added that, having not personally eaten wildlife meat for more than a year, it was even harder for him to know who was trading in it.
“If I bought it, I would know,” he said.
SOURCE: THE PHNOM PENH POST