Officials from the Fisheries Administration (FiA) Kep provincial cantonment are investigating the source of several kilogrammes of dugong flesh that was recently sold at Kep market. If it is determined that the rare marine mammal, listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, was deliberately hunted for profit, prosecution will follow.

Kuch Virak, director of the provincial cantonment, told the Post on June 20 that the search for the source of the dugong meat began on June 19, when fisheries officers were made aware that it was on sale. The officers raced to the market, but discovered that the woman trader who was selling it had sold out.

“In response to questioning by the officers, the woman explained that she had purchased the meat from a mobile butcher on a motorcycle. She said she was unaware that the meat was from a mammal, as the butcher had told her it was from a large catfish,” he said.

“My officers reprimanded her and made her sign a contract. She agreed that if she is offered meat that she cannot identify, or if she has even the slightest doubt about its source, she will not buy or sell it,” he explained.

He said officials were unsure where the butcher obtained the meat, but said there were three possible scenarios.

Female vendor get educated for buying and selling dugong meat in Kep province on June 17. FB

“Either the dugong was deliberately killed, died of natural causes or was accidentally trapped in fishing equipment. In any case, we would not be able to determine the cause of death from butchered meat. Our investigations will continue, however,” he added.

He expressed his disappointment at some members of the public who had suggested that the vendor should have been prosecuted.

“We need to clearly establish the facts of the case. If we discover that someone has killed a dugong – or any other endangered species – for profit, there will be no contracts or reprimands issued. We will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, with no exceptions,” he declared.

According to the cantonmnet, just five to 10 dugongs have been sighted in Kep since 2017. In 2021, one example that had died of natural causes was found, and in 2022, a fisherman discovered a second dead dugong that had become trapped in his net. He reported it to the authorities, who disposed of the animal after taking samples for research purposes.