Cambodia Absent From Global Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade

The government is not sending representatives to the largest-ever global conference on the illegal wildlife trade, which takes place today and Thursday in London and includes delegations from more than 50 nations, officials said Tuesday.

British Embassy spokesperson Bryony Matthews confirmed that the Cambodian government had been invited to the conference, with the goal of achieving new political momentum in the global effort to tackle the booming illegal wildlife trade.

“We haven’t had confirmation that they will send a delegation and I think it is now highly unlikely that they will,” she said.

Deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s department of wildlife and biodiversity, Keo Omaliss, responded with surprise when told that the international conference was even taking place.

“Yes we have a team we will send, when is the conference happening?” he asked, adding that the Forestry Administration would have been eager to participate.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Koy Kuong, denied Tuesday that the government had declined to send a delegation and said the ministry was simply unaware it had been invited and did not know the conference was taking place.

The trade in illegal wildlife is a serious issue in Cambodia as in the rest of Southeast Asia, with Chinese demand for its indigenous species—including sun bears, pangolins, clouded leopards and various monkeys—driving wildlife to the brink of extinction.

And the country’s population of tigers—one of the key endangered species the conference will address—has been so reduced that the feline is no longer considered sustainable.

Forestry Administration officer Heng Kimchhay, who has been involved for a decade in conservation efforts to protect Cambodia’s wildlife from poaching, said Tuesday he was deeply disappointed that Cambodia would not be taking part in the international meeting.

“I have 10 years experience in fighting the illegal wildlife trade and this is clearly a very important international conference, so I am really sad we are not attending—perhaps in the future, the [British] Embassy will contact directly to the correct departments and the names of the correct people,” he said.

Thailand is the only other country in the region not sending a delegation, due to the political situation in the country, but according to the Bangkok Post the Thai Ambassador to the U.K. will attend instead.

Meas Kimheng, Cambodia’s newly appointed ambassador to the U.K., is currently in Cambodia as he has not yet taken up his post in London.

Seng Bunra, country director of Conservation International, said it was unfortunate that the government had not sent a delegation.

“It is a missed opportunity [for the government] to show it is serious about the issue,” he said.

© 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.