The effort to keep restaurants from serving wildlife meats is progressing slowly with some eateries trying to evade the new regulations, WildAid president Suwanna Gauntlett said.
“One week they won’t have any [wild meats], the next week they will,” Gauntlett said. “They think we’re going to stop inspecting them, [but we’re not]. Sometimes they hide animals on the roof.”
On October 9, Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara issued a directive banning the sale of wild meats. In November, he plans to hold a town hall meeting with restaurant owners as well as judges, where he will strengthen the penalties for serving wildlife and ask the restaurateurs to sign promises not to do so.
Mann Chhoeun, the municipal chief of cabinet, said the meeting will make the directive more effective. “If they violate the directive, we will have the conditions to bind them because they signed the promise papers,” he said.
The governor‘s actions come on the heels of WildAid’s campaign to eliminate wild animals from Phnom Penh’s restaurants, markets and traditional medicine outlets, which began in April.
In August, WildAid workers obtained an official letter from the Ministry of Agriculture and posted it in 137 Phnom Penh restaurants.
Since then, the Wilderness Protection Mobile Unit—13 enforcement officers in trucks and on motorbikes—have returned each week to about 35 of the restaurants thought to be the worst offenders based on their menus. If they find wild animals, they seize them.
Wild animals commonly served in restaurants include both land and soft-shelled turtles, snakes—including cobras—pangolins, monkeys, bats, wild birds such as doves and swallows, monitor lizards, deer and wild boar.
Some, but not all, of these animals are endangered. Several NGOs, including WildAid, met with the Department of Forestry on October 5 to draw up a new list of over 500 protected animals.
Several restaurateurs interviewed Tuesday said they have followed the directive because they believe it will discourage poaching. “I have to follow the wildlife protection law to allow the wildlife population to grow,” said Sem David, owner of Boeng Bopha restaurant. He noted that wildlife meat is expensive.
Officials said the wild animals are usually smuggled to restaurants in Phnom Penh from Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham, Pailin and Kompong Speu provinces—adding that some are exported to Thailand and Vietnam.
Phauk Sam En, second deputy governor of Kompong Speu province, said all restaurants there have been ordered not to serve wild animals and provincial officials have monitored restaurant owners.
“If there are no buyers, no poachers will catch wild animals,” Phauk Sam En said.