By Stuart White
Conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance yesterday released its statistics for seizures of illegal animals for the first nine months of this year – figures that show that the illicit wildlife trade is still a significant problem in Cambodia, despite improvements in the last 12 years.
According to the statistics, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team – a WA project staffed by military police and Forestry Administration officials – seized over 2,000 live animals and more than 2,300 dead ones through the end of September in actions that resulted in the arrest of 125 wildlife traders.
By comparison, between the years of 2001 – when the WRRT was initiated – and 2012, the team seized an average of 4,400 living animals each year.
Wildlife Alliance’s CEO, Suwanna Gauntlett, said that while seizures had levelled off in recent years, the underground nature of the market made it hard to measure its size.
And while once-frequently trafficked animals are also showing up less in recent seizures, Gauntlett said, it’s likely for the wrong reasons.
“In the beginning we [seized a lot of\ the charismatic mammals, like elephants and tigers,” Gauntlett said. “As of six or seven years ago, those charismatic species are gone. And after the tigers and elephants come the bears.”
However, she continued, “in the last couple of years, the number [of bear seizures\ has declined because, we think, the population is declining”.
One of the most commonly trafficked animals now is the pangolin, a scaly ant-eating mammal. According to Gauntlett, pangolin meat can fetch as much as $300 per kilogram, while a kilo of scales – used in traditional medicine – can fetch up to $3,000.
But, as Gauntlett said, “all animals, no exceptions” are at risk for opportunistic poaching, which typically uses snares to indiscriminately trap prey.
“They put [the snares\ in the forest, 600 at a time, and we call it the ‘wall of the death’,” she said. “So when somebody says that these farmers are doing this for their own subsistence, and they’re catching a wild pig for their family, that’s basically not the reality.”