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.
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.
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Communications and Finance Field Liaison