Two men were charged on Friday with stealing an endangered vulture from its cage in Phnom Tamao zoo, allegedly for a government official who wanted to use the bird’s gall bladder as medicine to cure an illness, police and zoo officials said.
A 24-year-old zoo employee, Mam Tuon, and a 33-year-old coconut seller, Yem Sokha, were arrested Monday and charged with stealing the vulture Sunday night, Takeo provincial deputy police chief Nuon Phon said.
“They did it under the order of a man from Phnom Penh,” Nuon Phon said.
On Sunday morning, two men on motorcycles approached Mam Tuon and Yem Sokha and promised to pay $300 if they stole the bird, police said. The strangers told the men that their superior wanted to use the vulture as a traditional herb to treat his illness.
On Sunday night, the strangers returned in a white Toyota Land Cruiser and gave the two men wire clippers to cut open the bird’s cage, the charged men told police. However, the strangers took the endangered bird without paying the alleged thieves, police said.
“They were cheated,” Nuon Phon said. “They did not receive the money as promised. We are looking for the mastermind. He is a senior official.”
Nuon Phon declined to reveal the identity of the government official, saying the investigation is ongoing. The zoo’s director, Pin Nivorn, could not be reached for comment Friday.
“The information is kept secret because the mastermind is believed to be a senior official,” said the zoo official who declined to be named.
The theft leaves one vulture in Phnom Tamao zoo, a zoo official said Friday. Of the previous pair, one was donated in 1998 and the other in 2003.