Eight people, including a Cambodian wildlife official who was detained in the US while traveling to a conference on protecting endangered species, have been charged by federal prosecutors with smuggling endangered monkeys.
The official was involved in breeding long-tailed macaques for academic and scientific research, providing them to labs in Texas and Florida, along with a colleague from that nation’s wildlife agency and six individuals connected to a Hong Kong-based business. However, the group is accused of buying macaques for the company illegally from the wild when they ran out of their breeding operations.
The importation of long-tailed macaques, also known as crab-eating macaques, into the US is subject to special permits and is protected under international trade law.
Wildlife Officials Arrested
Masphal Kry, Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries deputy director of Wildlife and Biodiversity, was taken into custody on Wednesday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Kry, 46, was going to Panama to attend a conference on regulating the trade in endangered species, according to a US official who spoke on the record to discuss the ongoing inquiry.
Along with the six Vanny employees, Omaliss Keo, 58, the director general of the country’s Forestry Administration, is charged in the eight-count indictment. Whether or not anyone else had been arrested besides Kry was not disclosed by officials. They could each spend 145 years behind bars, Yahoo News reports.
Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, stated that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has already declared the macaque to be an endangered species. It was necessary to put an end to the practice of forcibly removing them from their natural habitat so they could be used in laboratories. Never should greed take precedence over ethical conservation.
The long-tailed macaque, which is almost entirely used for lab research, is the most traded primate according to the CITES database. Over 600,000 were exported and declared to have been born or bred in captivity between 2011 and 2020, according to the CITES Trade Database. Only in 2020 were nearly 165,000 live specimens exported.
“Captive Bred” Labels
The indictment claims that James Man Sang Lau, 64, the founder and owner of Vanny Resources Holdings, and Dickson Lau, 29, the general manager of Vanny Resources Holdings, operated out of Hong Kong and owned and managed several corporations that collaborated with officials and black market collectors in Cambodia to obtain wild macaques and export the animals to the US under false labels of being captive-bred, The New York Times reports.
According to officials, the macaques were transported to breeding facilities in Cambodia from national parks as well as other areas, where they were given fictitious export permits. A collection tally of 3,000 “unofficial” monkeys was exchanged for cash payments of $220 each to officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.
Edward Grace, the Assistant Director for the Office of Law Enforcement in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that when these animals are taken out of their natural habitat and sold illegally in the US and elsewhere, wild populations of long-tailed macaques are at risk, as are the health and wellbeing of the American public.
A Nov. 23 event on threats to the same species that the Cambodian officials are accused of trafficking is part of the conference in Panama, which is attended by representatives from 184 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s contracting nations, FOX News reports.
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