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.
Jacqueline Lee is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout Southeast Asia. Her “Postcard” from the visit in Cambodia:
Patrolling the jungle and “Viper Valley” for poachers and illegal activity, ambushing culprits, and releasing trapped endangered animals back to their homes - all in a normal day with Wildlife Alliance's Rangers.
Bright and early March 8, 2012 – I met with Amy, International Development Manager, and Eddie, Head of the Ranger Program, at their main Cambodia office in Phnom Penh to depart for the forests of Chi Phat and the surrounding province. I was able to visit 2 of the 6 ranger stations, where rangers rest, plan, and prep for patrols, ambushes, and arrests of those trying to take away endangered plants and animals for markets including exotic pets, medicines, and even food in other countries.
Finally, we arrived at the first Ranger patrol station – I was welcomed with a red carpet salute by local military and rangers. From there I was shown all of the confiscated trappings and vehicles from people illegally hunting and cutting wood (protected wood that is worth a lot of the market - so much that people will risk class 1 misdemeanors resulting in immediate jail time if caught).
Although very exciting, the life of the rangers seemed extremely tough - their motorbikes were parked in the back with small packs ready to go into the forest for days at a time: sleeping, patrolling, and laying in wait to protect each team's designated area of land (which is extremely large). Out there they are all against the elements - mosquitoes, snakes, heat, and whatever else that can be thrown their way. They even have to sleep in mobile hammocks off the ground to keep from snakes and spiders. Additionally, their equipment and bikes have to withstand the elements therefore items like their boots are vital for their safety and experience the most wear and tear.
Currently the patrol stations are strategically placed along the water transport and road transport areas, but with increased control, those who are willing to break the law are trying to find creative ways to avoid the authority of Wildlife Alliance. Therefore, Eddie showed me the goals and hopes for expansion deeper into the forest along the north in order to stop their access that way - although it would be harder and longer to get to as well as get out if a medical emergency occurred. The criminals are getting more sneaky and creative in their activities.
I asked one of the rangers what brought him to Wildlife Alliance, and he said his "love of forest, animals, and conservation." I responded if he was not with WA where would he be - and he said he was previously with the Cambodian Royal Embassy Military.
Right before my arrival - the teams had just rescued and released 25 monkeys back to the forest. While on patrol - I was able to see some monkeys playing and exploring along the river.. a very exciting experience for me. In the end, Eddie shared that because of the efforts of Wildlife Alliance - in 10 years 6 our of 7 land titles wre canceled last year protecting the area from deforestation and development - and keeping a home for this native wildlife, flora, and fauna.
Thank you Eddie and Amy for the adventurous and insightful site visit!
For more details and pictures about my visit please visit: JacquelineInTheField
As we have reported previously on our website, elephants have increasingly been wandering out of the jungle onto roads and villages as the forest shrinks around them. Since October, the number of human-elephant encounters has risen dramatically and it has now become an almost daily responsibility for our forest patrol teams to follow-up on reports of elephant sightings and protect both the elephants and villagers in the area.
On January 6, 2012, the station supervisor at the Stung Proat Station received a phone call from a hunter from Chi Phat that a large male elephant was on the sugar cane plantation road and that he had been forced to seek refuge high in a tree. The patrollers arrived on the scene and helped the man down and sent him on his way while keeping the elephant, who was actually very calm and docile, at bay.
For the next 11 days, it was necessary for the rangers to do crowd control on the road as the elephant continued to appear there each afternoon and stay until sunrise the next morning. For the first 9 days, the situation was very tense as workers driving past in trucks would throw things or shout at the elephant which would irritate him and cause him charge after the trucks. Nothing seemed to scare him off, not fire or gun shots, and the elephant remained on the road.
By the 10th day, when the elephant appeared again, he seemed exhausted and was missing a piece of his left tusk. He became even more aggressive with passing workers. When several workers came directly at him with tractors, it appeared the situation had become untenable. In response, CEO Suwanna Gauntlett was called in to reach out the general manager of the sugar plantation and ask for urgent intervention with his workers. After negotiations with the GM, the workers calmed down but did not entirely stop provoking the elephant.
When the patrol team returned to the road again on Day 12, the elephant did not return and he has not returned since. Footprints have been spotted further into the forest and at this point it is assumed that he has found another, more densely forested spot to spend his days. However, we continue to investigate further.
Elephants have not been seen in the open for the last 10 years, despite confirmations through footprints and dung that a population of around 200 individuals exists in the forest. While poaching has been under control since 2002 due to the direct action of Wildlife Alliance, deforestation continues to be a challenge to the lives of these elephants. Today, the southern tip of the elephant corridor is being aggressively cleared, pushing elephants out of the forest and causing this increase in elephant sightings.
We have had to adapt quickly to insure the safety of the elephants. Without constant intervention by our forest rangers, it’s hard to say what will happen during these human-elephant encounters. And without your help, we can’t guarantee that our rangers will always be available to intercede during these tense situations. Our patrol teams are already stretched thin as they combat wildlife poaching and illegal logging throughout the forest area. The forest in the Southern Cardamoms exists solely because of the protection provided by Wildlife Alliance and we are able to do that only with your support.
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.
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