Forestry Administration officials in Siem Reap province on Monday seized as many as 200 turtles believed to have been bound for restaurants in Vietnam.
The reptiles were being smuggled along with two large snakes in a crowded minivan taxi traveling along National Road 6 in Chi Kreng district, provincial Forestry Administration chief Prum Nol said Thursday.
Officials determined that the passengers were not the ones transporting the turtles and made no arrests, Prum Nol said.
“We only took a total of 156 turtles alive. About 50 turtles died because they were all put in a sack and had crushed each other,” he said. “We’ll take only the surviving turtles to free them in the Tonle Sap lake,” he added.
National roads 5 and 6 are the routes where most seizures of smuggled wildlife from Kratie, Stung Treng, Kompong Thom, Battambang and Siem Reap provinces take place, Prum Nol said.
A single recent seizure from Battambang province netted as many as 500 turtles as well as snakes, monkeys, pangolins and birds, he said.
“So far this year, there were 10,000 wild animals rescued by our forestry officers in cooperation with WildAid mobile teams on national roads 5 and 6,” he added.
The conservation group formerly known as WildAid, which recently changed its name to Wildlife Alliance, provides support to Forestry Administration mobile teams.
Commenting on the lack of arrests in the rampant wildlife smuggling trade, Prum Nol said the fact that smugglers often transport their cargo in public taxis makes it difficult to catch them.
“During the raids we rarely arrest the smugglers because all of the wildlife is smuggled by van or taxi with [ordinary] passengers inside, making it hard for us to find the smugglers,” Prum Nol claimed.
Wildlife Alliance Program Manager Koy Visedh said Thursday that his organization had not been involved in Monday’s seizure.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)