Everyday our forest protection teams are out on the rivers and roads, and trekking through the deep forest of the Southern Cardamoms patrolling for signs of wildlife poaching, logging, and other illegal activities. Wildlife Alliance has six patrol stations scattered across the area and each station has teams patrolling day and night for offenders. Our presence there has cut down illegal activities considerably, but unfortunately offenders persist.
The Stung Proat station is located at the intersection of two major rivers, making it ideally situated to monitor trafficking. Patrollers there apprehended a logger and confiscated nearly 300 kilos of rosewood…but it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Station supervisor Kaspars Cekotins tells the tale:
“It was a regular day at the station towards the end of October when I decided to go on patrol with my daytime team just after 2pm. One of my two teams was on monthly leave so I only had 5 military police (MP) at the station. Leaving 2 MPs on duty, I set out by boat with 3 MPs and turned up the Stung Proat River. Offenders have informants throughout the area so they always know when one of the teams is off on leave and can expect fewer patrols. This was probably why only 15 minutes after our departure, we saw 4 small boats loaded with rosewood heading in our direction.
First, I tried blocking them on the river but they noticed how few men we had in the boat so they tried to outpace us in their smaller boats. I swung the boat around and gave chase. The boats with smaller pieces of wood were throwing the pieces overboard to lose weight and elude capture. These people know the river very well so even though it was high tide, they dropped it in the areas they know to be most shallow so they could come back and retrieve it.
After only 40 seconds, I was close enough to touch the nearest boat. Even though I already had a grip on the boat, the driver refused to stop and continued to try to escape, so I stepped into the boat and dragged him over to our vessel. I asked one of the MPs to quickly handcuff him and then drive his boat to shore so we could go after the rest of the boats. Another 2 minutes and we were almost to the second boat. At that moment, the offender realized he couldn’t escape us and he steered the boat to shore and ran into the forest leaving the boat with the wood behind.
Meanwhile, I called the MPs at the station and asked them to get out on the speedboat and stop the rest of the boats as they passed. Unfortunately, by the time the other 2 boats arrived, they had ditched all their wood and appeared as normal boats when we searched them. Cambodian law dictates that a logger or poacher must be caught red-handed with the illegal material on them in order to be arrested so we had to let them go.
Despite this disappointment, we had captured 2 of the 4 boats and 1 of the offenders, so it was not a total loss. We returned to the station to document the evidence. Only when we got back did we realize that the first boat had not returned as we thought. When being dragged off the boat, the offender managed to let some water into the boat. Already heavy with wood, the boat sank into 4 meters (over 12 feet) of water. With night coming on quickly, we had to figure out how we were going to retrieve the evidence from the bottom of the river. We managed to get the boat and a bag with a 2 kilo snake but all the rosewood and the boat engine remained underwater.
The only thing we had going for us was that nobody but us knew exactly where the boat sank so I ordered all traffic halted on Stung Proat River. I knew the offenders would return to look for the sunken wood. At first light, around 5am the next day, we went to retrieve the wood from the riverbed. Since the tide was low, we could clearly see all the pieces that had been thrown overboard lying in the shallow parts of the river. After picking up the rosewood from the shallow areas, we came to the location where the boat had sunk. Even though it was low tide, we still had to dive nearly 3.5 meters (approx. 10 feet) to get to the bottom. This boat had been carrying the biggest pieces (some weighing nearly 50 kg), so we dove down with a rope, tied it around each piece and pulled them up into the boat. After 3 hours of diving, we recovered 270 kilos of rosewood and the sunken boat engine.
Later that day, we saw a lot of “fishermen” setting up their nets in the area and looking for the wood. Yet, there was none to be found after our very successful patrol.”
Much of the attention given to animal rescues falls on those moments when a particularly charismatic animal is wrested from the illegal wildlife trade. It is only natural—people can’t help but connect with bears and gibbons and elephants—but in reality a massive proportion of animals rescued by Wildlife Alliance are reptiles.
Though perhaps more cold than cuddly, snakes, turtles and lizards are captured and trafficked in enormous quantities. A recent bust by the Wildlife Alliance-supported Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) shows just how extensive this reptile trade can be, with over 1,000 tokay geckos rescued from the trunk of a single car!
Dozens of the tockay geckos rescued from a taxi in Cambodia recently. This shot was taken shortly before they were released back into the wild.
A call came in from an informant warning about a car headed from central Cambodia for the capital of Phnom Penh. Most of the WRRT was in the remote eastern provinces at the time, so Forestry officer Heng Kimchhay and military police Captain Sou Sareth headed out on their own to intercept the Toyota Camry suspected of illegally transporting wildlife. Just as the informant said, the vehicle was spotted on route to the capital, and the two pulled over the car, which happened to be a taxi.
Forestry Administration officer Heng Kimchhay (left) confronts the owner of boxes containing over a thousand illegally trapped and transported lizards shortly after the taxi carrying them was pulled over.
Boxes full of lizards pack the trunk of the taxi, which has been taken to a local Forestry Administration office so evidence can be collected, the offenders can be processed, and the health of the geckos can be assessed.Outside a local Forestry Administration outpost the people within the taxi exited the vehicle and Kimchhay and Sareth searched the vehicle. The trunk was packed with cardboard boxes, each containing a sack of tightly packed tockay geckos. In all, the car was found to be transporting a whopping 1,027 tokays, of which 1,008 were still alive.
Tockay geckosA tokay (the -ay rhymes with pie) is a large variety of gecko, a lizard known for its ability to climb upon pretty much anything, including glass and ceilings. Their distinctive—and very loud—calls can be heard in Cambodian forests and cities alike. Tokays are very adept at ridding areas of insect pests, but these thousand were likely going to be turned into food or possibly dried out for use in traditional medicines. There are also reports that Malaysian syndicates are buying them to fight them in rings, with onlookers gambling on the results.
The man who was trafficking the geckos was written up in the Forestry Administration office, and thumb-printed documents admitting to possessing and transporting the geckos. He claimed that he had seen tokays for sale before in a market and assumed that it must be legal to sell them, but the sheer number of lizards the man had collected indicates he was very familiar with the trade.
Also charged in the incident was the taxi driver, who was a close relative of the owner of the gecko packages, indicating that he was knowingly a party to the crime of illegally transporting wildlife. The taxi was confiscated, as is standard practice in illegal transport cases, and will be returned when the fines for the offense are paid.Geckos spill out from the sacks in which they have seen stuffed by the hundreds. Photos such as this one will be used as evidence against the alleged traffickers.
Because tokays are considered a “common species” the suspected traffickers can not be imprisoned for the crime even though it was on such a large scale. Instead, Kimchhay recommended through the Forestry Administration that the court impose the maximum fine upon the traffickers, in this case three times the market value of the illegal wildlife. A tokay is reckoned to bring about $1.25 each on the illegal market, bringing the total fine to around $3,850—a sum that in developing Cambodia should prove to be a massive deterrent to any further trafficking.
The driver of the taxi prepares to thumbprint documents concerning the evidence found in his vehicle while the alleged trafficker of the lizards (in blue) is also processed by Heng Kimchhay of the WRRT (right) and a local Forestry official.
The case also demonstrated the independence of the WRRT and the challenges it can face in doing its work. The two alleged traffickers were clearly very well connected, as calls started coming in to the WRRT office from officials asking that the case be thrown out and the taxi returned. Such pressure is a common feature in Cambodia, which is consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world by monitoring organizations like Transparency International. But despite the pressure exerted on our team, the WRRT’s Forestry officials refused all demands that matter be dropped and the traffickers will be prosecuted by the court.
As for the tokays, they were transported to forested areas and released back into the wild, allowing a thousand-strong chorus of their distinctive “TO-kai!” calls to echo through the trees.
The WRRT releases a number of the confiscated tockay geckos in the forest near a Buddhist temple in Cambodia’s Kampong Cham province. There the geckos should be able to find food and because of the location’s proximity to a temple, they should be safe from trappers. Hundreds more of the geckos were released in a separate protected area in the province of Koh Kong.
To protect pangolins in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, rangers need to preserve and protect their entire habitat. Wildlife Alliance’s rangers do just that. Everyday our rangers confiscate illegally logged timber, destroy charcoal kilns and remove life-threatening snares. By protecting the forests, they protect the pangolins and hundreds of other endangered species.
Just recently, on January 25, one of our ranger teams located and dismantled a whopping 662 snare traps illegally placed by poachers in a protected area as well as dismantled 10 unlicensed charcoal kilns. On January 24, our Chambak ranger team confiscated a large load of luxury timber and caught two men illegally chain-sawing trees in the forest.
Thanks to your support we are able to provide these rangers with the equipment they need to protect the forests and the pangolins that inhabit it. But this is an ongoing fight and our rangers need gear and support to continue their life-saving work.
We appreciate your ongoing interest and dedication to our work. We encourage you to keep up-to-date on the latest news from our rangers and staff in the field by following us on Twitter and Facebook and by signing up for our monthly newsletter.
Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.
Fighting crimes against nature is an ongiong task for Cambodian Rangers. October especially was a busy month with the teams confiscating over 5 tons of illegally logged timber, 23 bags of charcoal, 348 snares, and destroying 79 charcoal kilns. The teams also conducted 7 ambushes and 3 raids to catch violators in the act.
To learn more about our forest protection work and to watch a video with Jeff Corwin please visit our site here: http://www.wildlifealliance.org/forest-protection/.
Recent ranger patrols updates: Protect Pangolins in Cambodia by Equipping Rangers
Stung Proat Ranger Station:
July 5-8: Long patrol along Phnom Tagnoul Road. Rescued 3 civets, 2 turtles, 5kg of baby elephant bones that had been out there a long time, 8 pieces of krunyoung wood, 157 wildlife snares, 50kg of red deer meat, 3kg of wild buffalo bones, several wild pig prints, and also confiscated and burned two bicycles.
July 12: Confiscated a slowboat and engine along the Stung Proat River. Also seized a mother pangolin and baby that an offender was trying to cut out of a tree. The offender escaped on foot.
Sre Ambel Ranger Station:
July 8: Rescued 2 turtles after a pursuit on motorcycle with 2 offenders in the direction of Kamlot. Offenders discarded turtles in the pursuit which were then seized by the team and released in a safe place. The offenders escaped.
July 12: Confiscated 3 motorcycles carrying 0.5m3 krunyung luxury timber.
July 14: Confiscated wildlife 500 snares and traps in various locations.
July 18: Illegal logging activity continues, albeit sporadically, behind Ly Yong Phat Sugar Plantation. The team intercepted and seized 3m3 of timber that had been prepared by the loggers for transport by oxcart, which the team subsequently destroyed.
Kirirom Ranger Station:
August 2: Removed 22 wildlife snares in protected forest north of Ly Yong Phat area.
August 3: Rescued and released 3 monkeys in Tamkon Village near Road 48.
August 5: Rescued 4 birds in the evening along the road to the station in Ly Yong Phat’s area.
August 7: Confiscated one chainsaw and around 700kg of krunyoung wood.
Koh Pao Ranger Station:
August 2-8: Conducted 3 day patrols, 3 night ambushes, conducted follow-up on areas of previous concern. Confiscated 23 rope snares, 0.594m3 of sawn timber near Koh Kong speed boat port, and 29 Ta Oan trees. Seized a slow boat with engine and issued a non-reoffense contract. All evidence is being held at KP station.
Stung Proat Ranger Station:
August 2: Conducted a patrol acting upon information from an informant and the teams confiscated 3 chainsaws as a result.
August 6: Confiscated a motorcycle with three dead deer and seized a bag carrying a pangolin and two phones.near the Wildlife Alliance community agriculture and ecotourism projects.
August 7: Rescued a porcupine on the road to Chi Phat (a Wildlife Alliance ecotourism site) at dawn, which the team gave to Buntheoun (Wildlife Alliance’s wildlife biologist) to take to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescued Center.
Stop the Titanium Mine in Cambodia's Elephant Corridor
Help Wildlife Alliance stop a titanium mine that would devastate Cambodia's largest population of wild elephants, level forests, and bury free-flowing rivers under effluent, jeopardizing ecologically sustainable development.
The Cardamom Mountains are a five-million acre rainforest home to Malayan sun bears, pileated gibbons, pangolins, Siamese crocodiles, and over half of Cambodia's bird species. DNA surveys reveal that the area is home to more than 100 wild Asian elephants, the country's largest population, and over 74 other endangered and vulnerable species, with many yet to be discovered.
This mine would be sited in the middle of the Southwest Elephant Corridor and have devastating effects on:
1. Cambodia's largest population of wild Asian elephants and Siamese crocodiles, royal turtles, pangolins, and other globally threatened species
2. Forest protection and reforestation programs that have made the Cardamoms the only large rainforest remaining in mainland Southeast Asia
3. Rivers and tributaries that are critically important to fisheries, agriculture, and drinking water
4. Globally recognized ecotourism programs that bring revenues and jobs to poor rural people while preserving the natural environment
5. Carbon credits that 'provide revenues for the community and the Royal Government of Cambodia
The Cardamom Mountains are on the verge of becoming globally recognized as a leader in conservation and community-based sustainable economic development. But if the government allows mining, for the sake of a few years of mineral extraction, Southwestern Cambodia would lose forever the forest, the elephant corridor, and the chance for a sustainable future for local communities. All that would be left would be a massive hole in the ground and surrounding ecological devastation.
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Communications and Finance Field Liaison