Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara is expected to sign a new order cracking down on restaurants that serve protected animals as meat—a measure conservationists say could help reduce illegal wildlife trafficking.
After meeting with the governor Tuesday at Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, WildAid Resident President Suwanna Gauntlett said the municipality will issue a new directive to all restauranteurs to comply with the wildlife law.
Conservationists will now begin to collect evidence against restaurants violating the order, and will bring the owners of such establishments to court, he said.
The trade in mammals, especially tigers, sun bears and elephants, are “big challenges” to Cambodia’s conservation efforts, Gauntlett said.
Almost 140 restaurants in Phnom Penh, Kandal province and Kompong Speu province are suspected of serving wildlife meats to their customers, said Eng Peo Tith, the head of Cambodia’s military police task force on wildlife tracking.
The animals are trapped in the wild, and smuggled into eateries in the capital from Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham, Pailin, and Kompong Speu provinces, Eng Peo Tith said, adding that some animals were stocked, stored, and then exported to Thailand or Vietnam.
Just last week, authorities confiscated more than 300 kg of wild animals which had been loaded on a boat which they stopped in Stung Treng province. The boat, which was bound for Kratie, was planning to ship its cargo to Vietnam, Stung Treng deputy chief of military police Chhin San said.
The animals included tortoises, turtles and scaly anteaters, which authorities released unharmed back into the wild two days later.
In spite of a tough conservation law, officials and environmentalists say there is still considerable wildlife trafficking in Cambodia, thanks in large part to rampant corruption.
A great many senior officials take advantage of the high profits in wildlife trafficking, and intervene on behalf of their lower-level counterparts, Chhin San said.
“I would like to call on [officials] not to intervene when wildlife is seized,” the deputy police chief said Tuesday.