A forest defender group in Prey Lang forest say they have documented unchecked monkey poaching in the fast-disappearing forest, adding that live primates can sell for up to $250 a head.
The U.S. arrested an Agriculture Ministry official last week, who along with seven others was charged with smuggling and conspiracy. The U.S. Justice Department indictment alleges they were involved in exporting wild-caught long-tailed macaques and mixed them in consignments of farm-bred primates headed to the U.S.
Forest patrollers from the Prey Lang Community Network in Stung Treng province told VOD last month that they had documented monkey poaching in the forest, with the group’s chapters in Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom reporting similar activity.
While the eight people — including Forestry Administration head Keo Omaliss — are accused of smuggling long tailed monkeys, also called crab monkeys in Khmer, PLCN says poachers in the forest are after the lucrative rice monkeys or “white monkeys.”
Lay Phally, a member of PLCN in Stung Treng, walks through the forest in late October looking for signs of fresh deforestation. He points to a patch of trees in the distance, around 1 hectare in size.
He said the monkeys normally reside on the bigger trees and poachers will cut all the small trees around it and set up nets. Next, they try to scare the monkeys or cut the tree, he said, and capture the monkeys as they try to escape.
PLCN patrollers have seen poachers with monkeys, he said, and alleged that local authorities would not do anything after being alerted of the poaching activities in the forest.
He was worried the poaching was hurting the monkey population in Prey Lang and wanted officials to take more strict action.
“I asked the relevant authorities and organizations to help preserve and conserve Prey Lang and the monkeys for the next generation,” he said.
Hoeun Sopheap, who is with PLCN in Kampong Thom, said poachers in the province sometimes also used traps to catch the primates. He added that group members who would guard the entrance to the forest routinely saw people leaving with live monkeys.
Khut Soeum works for the patrol volunteer group in Preah Vihear. He said the monkeys, which he called “white monkeys,” were around 1.5 to 3 kg and fetched poachers around $250.
“I think it is a systematic crime and no authority or any official will investigate this case.”
Eng Phirong, director of the Stung Treng department of environment, said in late October that department officials had never arrested individuals for poaching monkeys, but admitted the practice was routine.
“The capture of the monkeys happens more often,” he said.
Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra could not be reached for comment this week and Environmental Ministry secretary of state Sao Sopheap declined to comment.