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.
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.
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Communications and Finance Field Liaison