Wildlife Seized

More than 200 monkeys and 60 snakes were rescued from wild­life traders in Kompong Chhnang province over the weekend, a haul of wild animals that po­lice suspect was destined for  res­taurants in Vietnam.

The monkeys and snakes were discovered packed into dozens of sacks in a vehicle that was stopped and searched by provincial police early Saturday morning.

Kompong Chhnang Police Chief Touch Narath said Monday the driver of the vehicle, which was bound for Phnom Penh, escaped and has not been found.

It was the largest haul of smuggled animals ever discovered in the province, he said.

“We were tipped off about a car carrying wildlife,” Touch Narath said by telephone. “This was the largest wildlife seizure.”

More than 60 of the monkeys, which are thought to have originated in the Tonle Sap lake re­gion of Battambang province, had suffocated during the car journey, said Touch Narath.

None of the snakes were hurt, he said, adding that Vietnam was the animals’ final destination.

Restaurants in Cambodia and Vietnam have long carried rare and endangered animals on their menus, and rare cuisine has grown in popularity because of the purported medicinal qualities of wild animals and the increasingly high prices such dishes fetch.

Cambodian police and wildlife officials launch regular restaurant raids in an effort to stop the trade.

Skinny and exhausted, the mon­keys that survived the journey were released in a wooded area near provincial offices in Kom­pong Chhnang province, said Touch Narath. The snakes were set free deeper in the forest, he added.

Officials in Battambang denied Monday that the large haul smuggled from the province indicated that a storage facility had been set up there by illegal animal traders.

Battambang restaurants have also been asked to sign contracts with provincial officials promising to keep rare and endangered animals out of the kitchen, said Seng Chhoeurth, deputy director of the province’s agricultural department.

The National Assembly last year adopted a forestry law with stiff penalties for crimes such as poach­ing and breeding wild animals in captivity. However, prosecutions for forest crimes remain rare.

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