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A Cambodian Wildlife Official is Arrested in the US for Monkey Smuggling

MIAMI: Federal prosecutors have charged eight people with smuggling endangered monkeys, including a Cambodian wildlife official who was arrested in the US while traveling to a conference on protecting endangered species.

The official plus a colleague in that country’s wildlife agency and six people connected to a Hong Kong-based company were involved with breeding long-tailed macaques for scientific and academic research, supplying them to labs in Florida and Texas. But the group is accused of illegally purchasing wild macaques for the business when they lacked supply from their breeding operations.

Long-tailed macaques, sometimes known as crab-eating macaques, are protected under international trade law and special permits are required to import the animals into the US.

The Deputy Director of Wildlife and Biodiversity in Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Masphal Kry, was arrested on Wednesday, 16 November, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Kry, 46, was traveling to Panama to attend an international meeting on regulating trade in endangered species, said a US official on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

The Director General of the Cambodian Forestry Administration, 58-year-old Omaliss Keo, is also charged in the eight-count indictment, along with the six Vanny employees. Officials did not say whether anyone besides Kry had been taken into custody. They each face up to 145 years in prison.

“The macaque is already recognized as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Juan Antonio Gonzalez said in a statement. “The practice of illegally taking them from their habitat to end up in a lab is something we need to stop. Greed should never come before responsible conservation.”

According to the indictment, Vanny Resources Holdings founder and owner James Man Sang Lau, 64, and Vanny Resources Holdings general manager Dickson Lau, 29, operating from Hong Kong, owned and managed several corporations that allegedly conspired with black market collectors and officials in Cambodia to acquire wild macaques and export them to the US, falsely labelled as captive bred.

The macaques were taken from national parks and other protected areas in Cambodia to breeding facilities where they were provided false export permits, officials said. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officials allegedly received cash payments of US $220 each in exchange for a collection quota of 3,000 “unofficial” monkeys.

“Wild populations of long-tailed macaques, as well as the health and well-being of the American public, are put at risk when these animals are removed from their natural habitat and illegally sold in the United States and elsewhere,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Assistant Director, Edward Grace.

The conference in Panama, bringing together delegates from 184 parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, includes a 23 November event on threats to the very species the Cambodian officials have been accused of trafficking.

The Spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Im Rachana, has told EAC News that the Ministry is gathering information while this case is under investigation. No further details will be released until then. Both the US and Cambodia have not yet convicted these eight individuals. The Spokesperson added that the Ministry will soon make a statement about this case.

The long-tailed macaque is the most heavily traded primate on the CITES database, almost exclusively for laboratory research. According to the CITES Trade Database, more than 600,000 were exported and declared born or bred in captivity from 2011 to 2020. Almost 165,000 live specimens were exported in 2020 alone.


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