The environmental protection group WWF has criticized the penalty imposed on three brothers arrested in Mondolkiri province over the weekend for filling the trunk of a car with turtles, lizards, snakes, a monkey and a civet—all of them meant to be food for a party.
“Those who commit crimes need to face charges,” Chhith Sam Ath, country director of WWF-Cambodia, said on Tuesday.
The animals—taken from the Tonle Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary—were seized on Saturday night. Two of the brothers were detained overnight and fined, while their 15-year-old sibling was released immediately, according to Chhith Sophal, director of Mondolkiri’s environment department. He said he did not know the amount of the fine.
The animals, which weighed a total of 103 kg and included 40 monitor lizards and the cat-like civet, were released into the forest on Sunday in the presence of environment officials, police and WWF staff, said Den Bunthoeun, the sanctuary’s director.
Brothers Sambath Vutha, 25, Sambath Vuthy, 23, and Sambath Ponnareay, 15, were arrested as they were putting the animals in the trunk of a Toyota Camry, Mr. Bunthoeun said.
The elder brothers were released on Sunday after agreeing to pay a fine and promising to comply with Cambodia’s Protected Areas Law in the future, he said, also claiming that he did not know the amount of the fine.
The three are not believed to be wildlife traffickers and said they were asked to purchase wild animals to cook for a party in O’Reang district. The Protected Areas Law prohibits trading in animals from wildlife sanctuaries, but only imposes fines and other financial penalties.
According to Mr. Sam Ath of the WWF, the law does not sufficiently protect the country’s wildlife, while a taste for wild animals among Cambodians and loose enforcement of existing legislation are exacerbating the problem.
“Our people like to eat wildlife,” he said. “Many restaurants in the cities and provinces serve wildlife.”
Mr. Sam Ath said the government should deploy more rangers in protected areas, which are far too large for the current corps to patrol.
soumy@cambodiadaily.com
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