Rangers: forest guardians and wild animal saviours
Released on World Ranger Day, the review ‘Law Enforcement against Forest Crime in the Eastern Plains of Cambodia’ details the efforts of rangers in combating the illegal timber and wildlife trade which has led to the confiscation of more than 358 cubic metres of luxury wood with a value equivalent to about 100,000 dollars, trophies of endangered wild water buffalo, banteng, sambar and serow. The review also details the arrests of poachers and traders and the rescue of endangered animals such as green peafowl and elongated tortoise, and vulnerable species such as lesser adjutant, civets, long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques. Most of these animals were released back into the forest, while a few were sent to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre near Phnom Penh for rehabilitation or long term care.
In late 2011, the ranger’s achievements were recognised by the WWF’s Tiger Alive Initiative, which awarded the rangers the ‘Best law enforcement monitoring effort’ in a critical tiger landscape. On World Ranger Day, the people who are challenged with the on-the-ground protection of Cambodia’s forests, have their voice.
Mr Lean Nhor, who has worked as a ranger for more than 11 years in Mondulkiri Protected Forest, says that working as a ranger is not an easy task and requires strong commitment and sacrifice, but he is proud of it. He says the result is not only for rangers, but for the benefit of the nation and all Cambodian people.
“Working against illegal loggers and poachers is very dangerous and challenging, but all rangers including myself do not feel intimidated because we are committed to our job, which is to protect the forest and conserve animals so that, in the future, Cambodia’s young generation will be able to appreciate this natural heritage,” he adds.
Mr Keo Sopheak, Forestry Administration’s Mondulkiri Protected Forest Manager, says that arrests and fines are not a long-term solution to stop poaching. Educating people about forest and wildlife crimes and the consequences these crimes could cause to natural resources that their livelihoods depend on can eventually transform their behaviour and actions, which will have longer-lasting impacts.
“Transforming poachers to protectors has been a major success contributing to protected area management over the past decade,” he adds.
The Eastern Plains landscape is critical habitat for the recovery of the Indochinese tiger in Cambodia and is also home to the world’s largest banteng population and other large mammals including Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, gaur, Eld’s deer, and large birds such as giant ibis, white-shouldered ibis, green peafowl and vultures. However, illegal logging, forest clearance, poaching and wildlife trade, highlighted in the review, continue to pose major threats to the landscape and its biodiversity.
With a high level of law enforcement by rangers, the Cambodian government will be able to secure protection of this large intact dry forest landscape. However, the current number of rangers is insufficient to effectively monitor the forest area of nearly 6,000 square kilometers. Moreover, the illegal wild animal and timber trade across the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, poses an additional challenge for the enforcement action on the ground.
“More than 1,000 logs of luxury wood confiscated along the border since 2010 probably represent only a fraction of illegal trade in the area,” says Ms Michelle Owen, WWF Acting Country Director. “Prosecution and penalties for offenders need to be strengthened to provide a real deterrent to the illegal wildlife and timber trade.”
World Ranger Day was first celebrated in 2007 to commemorate rangers who were killed and injured due to their duties. It is also celebrated to honour the work that rangers are committing to protection of forest and animal landscapes across the globe.
Through the Eastern Plains Landscape Project, WWF works with the Cambodian government to protect the vast dry forests landscape in the Eastern Plains and the globally significant wildlife it harbours. The project focuses on two conservation areas, Mondulkiri Protected Forest and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, covering a total area of approximately 6,000km2. The project’s goal is to keep the last wilderness of Cambodia intact and connected, helping people protect their wildlife while sustaining livelihoods.
WWF provides technical support to the Mondulkiri mobile enforcement team which was established in 2009. On call to operate all over Mondulkiri province, the team consists of officers from Ministry of Environment, National Gendarmes, Military Police, and is led by the Forestry Administration. In addition, over 30 staffs patrol regularly inside Mondulkiri Protected Forest and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary.