International monkey smuggling ring busted in US state of Florida

HOUSTON, United States

An international monkey smuggling ring was busted in the US state of Florida with eight people indicted Wednesday for their involvement.

Two Cambodian wildlife officials and six foreign nationals from Hong Kong-based Vanny Resources Holdings primate supply company were charged with the illegal smuggling of the crab-eating macaque monkeys, also known as long-tailed macaques.

The monkeys are an endangered species used in medical testing that requires special permits to be exported to the US.

Prosecutors said the defendants worked with black market dealers and corrupt Cambodian government officials to obtain wild-caught macaques and “launder them” through Cambodian breeding facilities. The laundering process concealed that the monkeys were taken from national parks and protected areas; The monkeys were destined for a broker in Miami.

“The macaque is already recognized as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature,” Juan Antonio Gonzalez, US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement. “The practice of illegally taking them from their habitat to end up in a lab is something we need to stop. Greed should never come before responsible conservation.”

One of the ring leaders, Masphal Kry, 46, of Phnom Penh, Cambodia was arrested Wednesday at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. Kry was Deputy Director of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity for the Cambodian Forestry Administration.

Investigators said Kry personally transported the monkeys to Cambodian facilities and received payments from the other members of the smuggling ring between December 2017 and September 2022.

The other Cambodian government official, Omaliss Keo, 58, was Director General of the Cambodian Forestry Administration.

The eight foreign nationals were prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals … does not threaten the survival of the species.”

“The allegations are alarming — the plundering of wild populations of long-tailed macaques and falsely labeling them as captive-bred in order to bypass regulations,” said Sarah Kite, co-founder of the animal rights group Action for Primates. “The plight of the long-tailed macaque — the most heavily traded primate species, and the most widely used in research and toxicity (poisoning) testing — has never been more desperate.”

The US imported nearly 32,000 monkeys for use in biomedical and pharmaceutical research last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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