Last year, Wildlife Alliance took supporters and Advisory Board members on a frequently wild, oftentimes touching, and definitely life-changing trip to our projects in the Southern Cardamom Mountain range of Cambodia. One aspect of the tour included a visit to the ranger stations in the Southern Cardamom Mountains. By meeting our dedicated staff and learning about the invaluable work they do, we were able to give supporters a chance to see firsthand what it is really like working along the river and in the forest stopping illegal activities and preventing forest destruction.
We began the visit with a tour of the Sre Ambel Patrol Station, where the group received an introduction to the Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program from the Project Manager Eduard Lefter and CEO Suwanna Gauntlett. Here we were given a shocking tour of the evidence room, where we saw hundreds of confiscated chainsaws, logs upon logs of confiscated timber, amid other confiscated materials like vehicles and snares.
The next day we headed further into the jungle. In order to understand what it truly takes to be a forest ranger in these parts, we joined the Stung Proat Patrol Station on a morning patrol!
Well before dawn, the rangers arrived on their speed boats to take the group out on our first river patrol. As we watched the sun rise over the water, we headed into narrower waterways and denser forest. The rangers are required to stop every boat that they pass, and as we sped along we were met with a fishing boat. The rangers stopped the fisherman and searched their boat, but found nothing illegal. A little further away, we found what the team believed to be the campsite of the fisherman. Upon further investigation of the site, several snares used for wildlife poaching were uncovered. They were immediately taken down and confiscated.
We then had the incredible opportunity to assist the rangers in the release of three turtles and a giant python that were rescued from the previous day’s patrol. The turtles and python quickly swam away, relieved to be in open waters again. After the boat ride, the group followed the rangers on a foot patrol, where they got to experience the rugged terrain these rangers trek over every day.
The rangers of the Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program tirelessly patrol the rainforest, coastal mangroves and rivers to stop wildlife poachers, forest fires, land grabbers and illegal loggers. The Cardamoms are one of the rarest resources in Southeast Asia, and we were very excited to personally show our supporters how these rangers combat these threats. We will be leading another group into the wilds of rural Cambodia this November 2-10. If you’re interested in testing your mettle as a forest ranger, click here to learn more, or contact Beth Eisenstaedt at email@example.com or 646-569-5861.
While out on regular patrol, forest rangers from the Koh Pao station combed through the Southern Cardamom Rainforest, dismantling illegal houses and stopping suspicious vehicles. When one such vehicle heading towards Koh Kong Town refused to pull over, the unit reacted quickly and went after the suspected traffickers. After a dramatic motorcycle chase, the suspects were trapped by incoming rangers. Instead of surrendering themselves, they dropped their motorcycle and took to the bushes on foot. The unit responded swiftly, and within minutes the suspects were captured and handcuffed. After a quick search of their vehicle, it was found that the offenders were in possession of a live pangolin. The offenders were taken to Koh Kong Town, where they were charged with wildlife trafficking and are awaiting trial.
After being examined for any injuries, the rescued pangolin was released that same evening into a suitable environment. Pangolins are peaceful animals that have recently been put on the IUCN Endangered Species List. They are rarely observed in the wild due to their secretive and solitary habits. Slow moving and lacking teeth, their primary defense is curling up into a ball, making them easy targets for poachers. Pangolins are hunted intensely for their meat and scales, and are also used in traditional medicine and as fashion accessories. The illegal trade is driving the pangolin to the brink of extinction. Help us protect pangolins and continue to make the Southern Cardamoms the best protected rainforest in Southeast Asia.
While out on patrol on September 23, 2012, rangers from the Koh Pao ranger station stopped a boat carrying three women, a young man, and a small child. As part of their patrol operations, the team stops all river traffic and searches boats and rafts for any illegal materials. After searching through their bags, they uncovered four bear paws that the women were taking to sell on the black market. The paws were confiscated and they were all taken into custody immediately. The court let one of the women go after it was decided she was an innocent passenger, but the other women and the young man all face jail time. Article 97 of Cambodian Forestry Law states that they could be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison for this offense. As Koh Pao station is located mere miles from the Thai border, they are often catching offenders trying to smuggle wildlife across state boundaries.
Demand for bear parts on the international black market is high and poachers and traffickers can fetch a high price for paws, hides, and gallbladders. Paws are often used in traditional Asian medicine and are considered a delicacy in soup. It is thought that eating bear paws can increase strength. Because of this active trade in bears and bear parts, their populations – especially in Southeast Asia – have been decimated. Bear species native to Cambodia like the Malayan sun bear and Asiatic black bear are both listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, due in no small part to poaching and trafficking. Wildlife Alliance has been working since 2001 to end the trade of wildlife in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia. Our efforts have not been entirely unsuccessful – one will rarely see bear paws being served in restaurants in Cambodia anymore. However, the international demand remains high and we must continue to do everything we can to ensure the long-term survival of bears in Southeast Asia.
On June 14, 2012, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a new land titling policy for villagers living inside state forests, economic land concessions, and former timber concessions. This new policy granted land titles to individuals pending mapping and occupancy history projects to be undertaken by each province within six months. Tens of thousands of families are currently embroiled in land disputes and this policy has the potential to clear up many of those issues. However, with its pointed mention of protected and previously zoned lands, it also has the potential to encourage anarchic land-grabbing in protected forest areas and outside of community development land. There are thousands of people living in the Southern Cardamoms who will be affected by this policy and our Forest Patrol teams, in collaboration with our Zoning and Demarcation team, have taken to the skies to do aerial surveys to assist local officials in ensuring that protected areas stay protected and villagers do not participate in land-grabbing that cannot be verified later.
Issues like this require immediate action and because Wildlife Alliance is on the ground every day, we are able to work quickly in response to zoning and land tenure disputes. During the first week of July, our team conducted an aerial survey, marking new houses and areas of deforestation, and even encountering an illegal logging operation in the process. Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett met with Koh Kong Provincial Governor, H.E. Bun Leut, the next week to discuss Wildlife Alliance’s concerns and the potential problems inherent in the new land measurement project. Wildlife Alliance supports land tenure for villagers, as the sustainable cultivation of one’s own land ensures the protection of the surrounding habitat, but we want to guarantee that this project is undertaken systematically and responsibly. Youth teams departed from Phnom Penh that same week to take part in the land measurement project organized by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. Four trucks carrying these teams arrived at the Governor’s Mansion on their way to the field where they were greeted by officials and the Wildlife Alliance team. Wildlife Alliance donated food and supplies to the teams as they head out to measure land over the next few weeks.
Check out our Facebook page for more pictures in the album Forest Patrollers Take to the Sky and the album LandMeasurement Commences. Visit our donation page to help our Forest Patrol and Zoning and Demarcation teams as they labor under this new decree.
Starting in October 2011, Wildlife Alliance has recorded 85 elephant sightings – a dramatic increase over past years. This trend is of obvious concern as it indicates an increase in illegal logging and other forms of habitat destruction, all of which is forcing the elephants out of the forest and into villages and other populated areas.
While many of these sightings consist of elephant footprints or droppings, providing proof that the elephants were there, a majority of these occurrences have consisted of elephants actually coming into contact with people. These incidents – some examples of which are below – can be dangerous for humans and elephants alike.
“Forest Ranger Patrol Unit encountered a male elephant crossing the road back and forth, while trying to attack a Lexus. The Unit stopped all cars to avoid an accident and no one was hurt.”
“Forest Ranger Patrol Unit received a call indicating that an elephant had wondered onto a busy road and was interrupting traffic. The unit moved to block all traffic as well as stopping the hundreds of sugar cane plantation workers who attempted to attack the elephant. Conflict was avoided and after 2 days the elephant left the road, unharmed.”
“5 elephants were seen along a road through a sugar cane plantation in Kompong Som Valley. They stayed several hours eating sugar cane. By the time that the Patrol Unit was able to respond after their operation in the forest, only one elephant remained and they were able to provide protection for this elephant until he left.”
While so far all humans and elephants have remained safe, human – elephant conflict can lead to causalities on both sides. The work that Wildlife Alliance does in alternative livelihoods, creating opportunities for rural villagers to make a living outside of illegal logging or slash and burn farming, helps keep habitat destruction to a minimum. Furthermore, the support and protection provided by the Forest Ranger Patrol Units helps insure that when conflict does arise, everyone stays safe and can coexist peacefully. Donate today and help us keep the elephantssafe.
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Communications and Finance Field Liaison