Man of the Protected Forest



Posted on 31 July 2012  | 
Having worked for nearly a decade and rising to the position of Manager of Mondulkiri Protected Forest (MPF), Keo Sopheak has actively contributed to securing protection for this large intact dry forest landscape. This has resulted in the stabilisation and slow recovery of important wild animals, including endangered banteng, rare leopard and red muntjac. In addition, with technical and financial support from WWF, Sopheak led the MPF team to strengthen relationships with key people in relevant government agencies and to establish physical outposts in the protected forest, that help reduce illegal activities against the forest and wild animals, and also converted some former poachers to forest protectors.

“I love the natural environment, and that is why I would like to be a part of protecting it. Now, I can achieve my goal, and I am proud of my work here,” Sopheak says.
 
Thanks to family motivation and a personal interest in the environment, Sopheak studied for a Bachelor degree of Forestry Science at the Royal University of Agriculture and graduated in 1998. Sopheak then spent nearly 5 years working in field research at the Cardamom Mountains, which is globally recognized for its rich biodiversity.

In 2002, Sopheak was assigned to work in the MPF that had just been announced as a protected forest in July 2002 by the Royal Government of Cambodia.  He began working as an officer and, because of his effort and performance; he was promoted to manager of MPF the following year.

“I cannot forget the first time I came to work in MPF. It is very amazing, and I am inspired by this unique landscape of dry forest and magnificent wildlife including Asian elephant, banteng, gaur, red muntjac, leopard and dhole,” he said.

Taking action against illegal loggers and poachers is not an easy task, but can be very dangerous and challenging. However, Sopheak and his enforcement team have worked hard over the last decade to protect forest and wildlife for the next generation.

“The MPF and WWF team have closely worked together to conduct research to understand about biodiversity and then move to establish outputs in and around the protected forest. We began from zero, and we still face a lot of challenges. However, we struggle to accomplish it because we all would like to protect biodiversity in MPF,” he adds.

Sopheak stated that before 2009 poaching was recognized as a major threat to large mammals in the MPF because local villagers were not aware of the forest law, and continued to hunt wild animals as an important source of food.

“In response, the MPF team with support from WWF conducted awareness with local villagers living in and around the protected forest about forest law. In addition, engaging poachers to be rangers has proved to be a long-term and effective strategy to deal with these issues. As a result, we have engaged 11 key former poachers to become rangers for MPF,” Sopheak says.

As MPF Manager, Sopheak also recognizes the challenge of working effectively with diverse teams because rangers were from different background and level of education. Sopheak therefore needed to spend much time to work with them, encouraging them to work hard and motivating them to move forward whenever they faced field challenges.

“I have to provide them with capacity building and how to deal with offenders because they sometimes are at risk if they did not know clearly on what and how to approach them,” Sopheak says.

Despite delivering achievements over the last decade in MPF management, Sopheak still shows his concern about the future of conservation in the MPF. He mentioned that the current insufficient number of rangers, together with increasing demand on luxury wood from overseas, and lack of approved management plan all pose major threats to the rich biodiversity in the area.  

“I hope, and am confident, that these problems can be solved so that MPF team with technical support from WWF will be able to secure the last dry forest landscape and important wild animals, benefiting all Cambodian people in the near future,” he adds.
Keo Sopheak
Mr Keo Sopheak, Forestry Administration's Mondulkiri Protected Forest Manager.
© WWF-Canon / Jane STORY Enlarge
Mr Keo Sopheak, middle, and other enforcement team members at the release of green and imperial pigeons after successful confiscation of 132 live animals in Mondulkiri Protected Forest.
© WWF-Cambodia / Rohit Singh Enlarge

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