A notorious poacher of endangered animals who conservationists said topped their list of Cambodia’s most wanted tiger hunters was sentenced to seven years in prison Wednesday by Koh Kong provincial court.
Yor Ngun, a 58-year-old originally from Stung Treng province, was known to have “tracked and killed 19 tigers, 40 leopards, 30 elephants, 500 gaur, banteng and sambar, 40 Malayan sunbears and three Asiatic bears in over ten provinces,” according to a statement from the local office of US-based conservation group WildAid.
“He was the most famous in the country,” said Sun Hean, chief of international operations for the Ministry of Agriculture and adviser to WildAid. “He moved very fast in different parts of the country hunting animals; he was all over the place,” he said.
The poacher was first apprehended by forestry administration officials in Mondolkiri province in 2004 but was released after signing a contract pledging not to snare or trade wildlife again.
But he was arrested on March 29 by forestry officials in a protected Koh Kong elephant corridor in the Cardamom mountains while transporting wildlife contraband, including 82 bear claws and 25 bear jaws, according to WildAid.
At his court proceeding earlier this week, Yor Ngun “sat in front of the court and said he hunted because he was poor,” Sun Hean said. “But when he was arrested, he had $500 in his pocket. People in the markets said he always carried around a lot of money.”
Yor Ngun was first identified as a major wildlife hunter in Preah Vihear province in 2001.
“We negotiated with him and said, ‘Why don’t you join us?’” Sun Hean said, referring to an ongoing conservation project that hires former hunters to help stop poaching. “But he refused.”
With a maximum tiger population of 300 in 1998, official estimates say that Cambodia now has less than 100, with small groups in the Cardamom mountains and in Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri and Preah Vihear.
Tigers are primarily killed to satisfy the Chinese black-market demand for animal parts in traditional medicines and gourmet foods, according to conservationists.