Python-Packed Cars Seized in Cambodia

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
November 24, 2008

Two wildlife smugglers transporting hundreds of live turtles and pythons jammed into the backs of cars have been arrested by Cambodian officials.

The drivers were apparently heading to neighboring Vietnam to sell the animals—many of them rare—to the region's illegal wildlife markets.

The November 9 seizure by a special Cambodian government task force comes on the heels of two other raids on wildlife smugglers in Malaysia.

Cambodia has long been considered a hot spot in the booming illegal wildlife trade, with many of its animals regularly siphoned off to Vietnam and on to China to be eaten or used in traditional medicine.

(Related: "Vietnam Becoming Asia's Illegal Animal 'Supermarket,' Experts Warn" [September 13, 2006].)

But large wildlife seizures such as the one in November may signal a positive shift in Cambodia's fight against traders, said Nick Marx, the Cambodia Wildlife Rescue Director for the conservation group Wildlife Alliance.

Animals are being rescued there every week, and larger busts may happen once or twice a month, Marx said.

Reptile Loot

The smugglers were stopped in Kâmpóng Chhnǎng Province in central Cambodia while heading east toward Vietnam.

(See Cambodia map.)

In the two vehicles' trunks, officials found 1,069 pounds (485 kilograms) of live wildlife, including three species of turtles—yellow-headed temple turtles, Malayan snail-eating turtles, and Asiatic softshell turtles—that are listed as either endangered or vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Slow-growing turtles are particularly vulnerable to poaching, experts say, and wildlife traders can wipe out entire populations in a river or lake with one shipment.

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