Feds charge 8 for smuggling endangered monkeys into US, including Cambodian wildlife officer

Wild macaques are seen sitting together at The Woodlands Waterfront Park in Singapore on September 22, 2022.

Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images

miami Federal prosecutors have charged eight people with trafficking endangered monkeys, including a Cambodian wildlife officer who was arrested in the US during a visit to a conference on protecting endangered species.

The officials, as well as an aide in that country’s wildlife agency and six people associated with a Hong Kong-based company, were involved in breeding long-tailed macaques for scientific and educational research and supplying them to laboratories in Florida and Texas. But the group is accused of illegally buying wild macaques for trade when supplies from their breeding operations were short.

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.

Masphal Kree, deputy director of wildlife and biodiversity at Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, was arrested at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday.

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

Omalis Keo, 58, director general of the Southeast Asian country’s forestry administration, is also indicted in the eight-count indictment, along with six employees of Wayni Resources Holdings. Officials did not say whether anyone other than Kri was 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 Conservation of Nature,” US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Juan Antonio Gonzalez said in a statement. “The practice of illegally removing them from their habitat in a laboratory is something we need to stop. Greed should never come before responsible conservation.”

According to the indictment, Vanny’s founder and owner James Man Sang Lau, 64, and Vanny’s general manager Dixon Lau, 29, operating from Hong Kong, owned and managed several corporations that operated in Cambodia with black market collectors and officials. conspired to acquire wild macaques in the U.S. and export them to the US, falsely labeled as captive bred.

Officials said the macaques were transported from national parks and other protected areas in Cambodia to breeding facilities where they were provided with false export permits. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries received cash payments of $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 welfare of the American public, are endangered when these animals are removed from their natural habitat and sold illegally in the United States and elsewhere.” goes,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement assistant director Edward Grace.

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

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

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