On August 25th and September 28th, 2013 Wildlife Alliance patrol units halted two illegal shipments of rosewood in the middle of the rainforest, after intense pursuits on Sre Ambel River. Just before the traffickers escaped from their boats, they threw part of their precious shipment of timber overboard hoping to salvage some of their profits from an estimated value of $65,000.
On September 28th, an informant called a Wildlife Alliance officer at the Tatai patrol station informing him that a stock of rosewood was hidden in the Sre Ambel River after being illegally harvested from the rainforest that Wildlife Alliance is protecting. The Tatai team immediately went to search and found the stock immersed in the river, approximately 3 meters down. They found more than 6 tons of rosewood and 1.7 cubic meters of another luxury timber called Thnong. It took 2 days and the help of the Sre Ambel patrol unit to extract the timber from the water and transport it back to the station.
Four weeks prior, on August 25th at 3:00 am, 2 slow boats with 5.5 tons of rosewood were trying to pass silently in front of the Sre Ambel patrol station with engines off so as to not be noticed. But, because they are on duty at night, the patrol unit was on alert. The team immediately jumped into the patrol speed boat to chase the trafficker’s boats. The offenders started their engines to try to evade capture, but the patrol unit was faster. The offenders realized they were cornered and had no choice but to jump out of the boats and run into the rainforest. The timber was seized and transported to the patrol station. The total shipment amounted to 5.5 tons of rosewood, 9 cubic meters of thnong, and 5.5 cubic meters of other precious timber from the protected rainforest, a huge confiscation for the team.
The Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program had a very busy month confiscating over 2,000 snares, more than 4 cubic meters of illegal redwood and other timber, 1 pangolin, 8 turtles, 2 water dragons, and 3 birds. And despite making nearly 40 patrol stops, they were only able to apprehend one offender, as most suspects flee the scene before they can be questioned. This is just another example of how difficult the task of forest protection truly can be – even when they are able to confiscate the tools of destruction, more often than not the actors elude them. Yet despite this challenge it is vital to conduct regular forest patrols both to stop offenders in the act, and to deter others from taking up such activities.
Our Forest Protection program would not be possible without the support of the Cambodian government. Last week, Suwanna Gauntlett, founder and CEO of Wildlife Alliance had a very productive meeting with the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister, Yim Chhay Ly, reinforcing Wildlife Alliance’s relationship with the government and Cambodia’s continued commitment to forest protection. This collaboration is essential to maintain the effectiveness of our direct, on the ground efforts to combat deforestation and wildlife trafficking, and we are grateful for their support. You can read the full press release below.
In the span of one week, Wildlife Alliance completed four successful sting operations that led to the seizure of 4,573 kilos of rare rosewood, known as kranhoungin in Khmer. The most notable of these endeavors was the result of a three-month intensive undercover investigation that identified when and where an illegal shipment of rosewood could be intercepted. A strategic plan was set in place by Wildlife Alliance’s Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program director, Eduard Lefter, who dispatched two patrol teams on motorbikes to the scene. According to reports from Cambodian Royal Gendarmerie and Forestry Administration officials from the Stung Proat Forest Patrol Station, at 11pm on May 2, the police units silently made their way to the expected checkpoint. Two additional guards were already stationed there, pretending to be asleep so as not to alarm any passersby. At 12:45am, the illegal trader arrived, only to be ambushed by the two patrol units. The perpetrator fled the scene but left behind what appeared at first to just be his haul of 742 kilos of illegally logged rosewood. However, there was something else in what he’d abandoned: an address book and expense report outlining his client list, their usual timber requests, and the amounts of their payoffs. This list exposed crucial information about traders and their networks, and included government officials working in the military and the Cambodian Forestry Administration. It also uncovered moles that had been lurking within the forest patrol units causing the perpetuation of corruption.
The illegal trafficking of rosewood in Cambodia has become more prevalent in the past few years with the issuance of directive no. 02BB by Prime Minister Hun Sen which bans the transport, collection, stock and export of rare timber and can lead to a 5-10 year term in prison. However, harsher sentences do not decrease the demand for these exotic woods. In the last twenty years, commercial logging, agricultural expansion, and shifting cultivation have resulted in the loss of 2.8 million hectares of forest in Cambodia alone, leaving only 57% of the country forested by 2010 (Paul Vrueze and Neou Vannarin, “Cambodia: Shrinking Forests Breed Violence” GlobalPost. November 12, 2012). The Southeast Asia region is a major contributor to global deforestation, as it lost 13% of its forests over the same time period, an area approximately equivalent to the size of Vietnam (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011).
Ecological decimation of this magnitude has profound effects not only for Southeast Asia, but for the world over. Illegal logging and deforestation threatens the lives of millions of people who live within these forests, contributes to global warming, harms the security of our ecosystems and biodiversity, and is driving many endangered species to the brink of extinction. For over a decade now, Wildlife Alliance has been tackling these imminent threats through an effective law enforcement and parks management system. Our direct, on-the-ground protection operation has had significant achievements as we have overturned 34 land concessions; rescued over 56,000 live animals from poachers; apprehended more than 2,500 traders; and generated alternative livelihoods for over 700 families; all while effectively preserving 1.7 million acres of forestland. These achievements have had a serious impact in the Cambodian conservation landscape. Help us continue to protect the forests of Cambodia by making a donation today.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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