Two Chinese nationals arrested Monday after a trove of rare and endangered animals, skins and bones was discovered at a Chinese Chamber of Commerce office in Phnom Penh were fined a combined $25,000 Tuesday and set free, according to police.
The two men, whom police refused to identify, were detained for questioning after local police, Forestry Administration officials and Wildlife Alliance experts raided the headquarters of the China Sichuan Chongqing Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia, located in Russei Keo district.
Inside, they found 19 skins of the endangered clouded leopard, as well as four other big cat skins—two of which turned out to be fake —10 otter skins and an assortment of bones, horns and claws, as well as three live monkeys, five tortoises and a turtle.
But despite the 2002 Forestry Law prohibiting the hunting, transporting and trading of protected species, the Chinese men were spared prosecution Tuesday.
Sar Rao, chief of the Forestry Administration’s mobile protection unit, said the men confessed to knowing about the animals and parts, but said they had not collected them.
“They agreed to pay $25,000 as a fine because they realized their mistake,” Mr. Rao said, adding that the live animals had been moved to a zoo, while the skins and claws had become state property.
The bones would be destroyed, he said.
Dean Lague, a technical adviser for Wildlife Alliance who has examined the haul, said the animals and animal products were likely destined for sale abroad.
“Generally, these items would make their way to Vietnam and then to China, where the market is huge,” he said, adding that the chances were slim that all 19 of the clouded leopards had been poached in Cambodia, where they are particularly rare.
Chris Shepherd, Southeast Asia director for Traffic, a wildlife trade monitor, said poor enforcement of wildlife laws in the region was contributing to the global rise in the trade of animals and their remains, which generates up to $20 billion annually.
Mr. Shepherd said that in Southeast Asia, “the list of species threatened by the trade is growing longer at a frightening pace.”
“Wildlife crime is still not seen as a high priority, and offenders are often getting off with little more than a slap on the wrist,” he said, adding that those who are caught are usually just middlemen.
“Enforcement agencies really do need to be investigating further to identify and remove the more important players in these trade chains,” he said.