Phnom Penh joint forces confiscated a more than one-year-old male lion from its Chinese owner on the morning of June 27.
The lion was illegally raised at its owner’s house in Village 7 of Boeung Keng Kang I commune and district in the heart of the capital.
The operation was coordinated by a Phnom Penh Municipal court deputy prosecutor and in cooperation with the NGO Wildlife Alliance.
Koam Seiha, deputy director of the Phnom Penh Forestry Administration, told The Post on June 27 that after receiving reports from neighbours about a lion being raised in the villa, the authorities conducted a search and subsequently confiscated the lion and sent it to Phnom Tamao Zoo in Takeo province.
He added that in light of the seizure the authorities are continuing to question the Chinese owner about information regarding how he came to own the illegal pet lion.
"We are continuing to research the source of this lion. This lion eats about 6kg of raw meat a day," he said.
According to Seiha, people do not have the right to raise wild animals or rare species because it runs contrary to Article 49 of the Law on Forestry. A clause in the law specifically states that the ownership of endangered species by private individuals is prohibited.
Nhek Ratanapich, director of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PWTRC), told The Post that the male lion had been transferred there already.
According to a preliminary examination, the male lion weighs about 70kg and is about a year and a half old.
With the arrival of the lion, he said they have set up a separate place to temporarily keep the animal while preparing a suitable habitat for it. The lion will be kept at the zoo for educational purposes and will not be released into the wild.
"In terms of the history of lions in the forest – I don’t know that this species ever existed in the jungles of Cambodia. They raised this animal in captivity after importing it from abroad," he said.
Although the lion was bred by its Chinese owner from an early age, Ratanapich said the PTWRC’s animal handlers would not get close to the lion for now and would wait to study it further and understand its character and how friendly it was with people first.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra congratulated the joint law enforcement team for confiscating the lion in order to protect it because it was a rare species that was smuggled in from abroad for possible breeding purposes.
"The ministry calls on people to take care of and conserve wildlife and not try to catch rare animals to keep at home, which is illegal. They should be left to live in the wild to increase reproduction," he said.
At the same time, Pheaktra expressed his concerns that despite the current protections and conservation measures for protected areas and the establishment of safe havens and food and water sources that have improved the presence of some wildlife in Cambodia – leading to an increase in some species such as monkeys, wild boars, peacocks – some species native to Cambodia continue to decline in numbers such as the banteng, deer and gaur.
According to Pheaktra, in the last 15 months about 70,000 traps have been removed from the protected areas – demonstrating the immense threat to wildlife currently posed by illegal trapping and hunting.