Raiding the dark animal underbelly of wildlife trafficking – ‘4-star generals kept tigers in cages in their living rooms, bears were behind most restaurants waiting for their paws to be cut off’Posted by Jim at Sunday, April 21, 2013
By Jerrie Demasi
19 April 2013
(Sydney Morning Herald) – "Mum, you need to be more patient," says nine year old Cambodian Bo Pa.
Her adoptive mother sits across the table of a red-and-gold-clad Chinese Restaurant in the heart of Phnom Penh, as they wait for their Mekong lobster to arrive.
"Bo Pa," she responds sternly.
"If I was built to be patient, the whole rainforest would be gone by now."
At the time - my first night in Cambodia - I didn't realise how close this big statement by this petite blonde American, Sowanna Gauntlett, was to the truth.
Yet by the end of my five-day trip, I would know.
On the menu is "Turtle Chinese Herb Soup".
Sowanna pretends to be interested in the meal, so the waiter enthusiastically reveals an Asiatic soft-shell turtle, around 70 centimetres in length, crammed in to a filthy crate not much larger than its body with just a few inches of water in the bottom.
It is a threatened species; and although it's alive, it's not moving.
We take photos and leave the restaurant, passing a glass cabinet with several shark fins proudly on display.
By morning, the Wildlife Alliance team has visited the restaurant, fined the owner and seized the turtle.
It is sent to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue centre to be rehabilitated and eventually released, but whether it will be caught again to appear as the main course on a restaurant menu, who knows.
Sowanna Gauntlett first visited Cambodia in the year 2000.
"Wildlife was being sold everywhere," she said.
"On sidewalks, in restaurants, in people's homes.
"Four-star generals kept tigers in cages in their living rooms, there were bears behind most restaurants waiting for their paws to be cut off after the next golf tournament as a delicacy, monkeys were waiting on restaurant table tops to have their brains eaten alive.
"It was something absolutely shocking to me and I had to do something about it, because I could not stand it."
The daughter of a wealthy heiress to a US pharmaceutical fortune, Ms Gauntlett tells of the piercing pain in the eyes of a snared tigress that she rescued during her first conservation mission in Cambodia.
Unable to shake the memory of its "cries for help", she pleaded her mother to entitle her trust fund to the mission of putting an end to the wildlife trade in Cambodia.
From there, the Wildlife Alliance was born. […]
You can donate to Wildlife Alliance through the Australian based foundation For the Animals. All donations go directly to Wildlife Alliance projects in Cambodia.