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.
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