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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Big game hunting: "The elephants are leaving"

Big game hunting: "The elephants are leaving"

CAMBODIA offers some of the best hunting to be found in Asia today. Few countries

in the world can boast of such an astonishing variety of animals.

The big game hunter and lover of excitement can hunt elephant, gaur, and wild buffalo

in the deep jungle, or set traps for tigers. He will find all kinds of deer, from

the big Aristoteles or horse-deer to the charming little mouse-deer. In the marshland

he will find many different kinds of wildfowl, peacocks, wild duck, pheasant, teal,

etc...

The keen hunter for photographs, if he is patient, can snap herds of elephants, tigers

taking water and the flurried flight of the disturbed deer.

For a few days, the western tourist can live a life as exciting as an adventure novel

in the splendid tropical forest. All will be new to him: the curious forms of the

trees, the tangled creepers, the nocturnal life of the jungle, the cries of the gibbons

greeting the rising sun.

The hunter abandons car and highway for bullock-cart, elephant, and canoe. Back again

in his comfortable apartment in Europe or America, the memory of these days will

remain with him forever.

Wait! Before all you environmentalists take up arms and march to the Ministry of

Tourism to protect what little remains of the wildlife in Cambodia, you should know

that this is how the National Tourist Office of Cambodia planned to woo macho tourists

to Cambodia in 1959.

The booklet, "Big Game Hunting in Cambodia", a short-sighted and desperate

attempt to bring in the tourist dollar, would provoke complete outrage if it had

been released today. It is so outrageous that it is comical. Take the cover for instance.

A cute tiger cub, lying on the grass with such an innocent look on its face would

hardly seem the image to arouse the "brave" hunter to stalk and slaughter

this beautiful animal.

If you have visions of wholesale slaughter in the jungles of Cambodia you need not

worry because there were rules and restrictions to prevent the complete loss of wildlife

and in doing so quickly end this tourist promotion. Some species, such as the bull

elephant, were protected. The solitary hunter had to be satisfied with being allowed

to shoot only two elephants, after that an additional prohibitive charge of 2000

riels per extra head was levied! Buffalo, wild bull, and gaur were other animals

that were considered "protected" species and required extra payment if

the hunter needed to inflate his ego further. All other "wild or noxious animals",

which included the tiger and panther, could be killed without any restriction, during,

and, outside of the shooting season, which was 1st December - 31st May.

The scene at Pochentong airport would have been a bizarre sight as these rabid hunters

(sorry tourists) took advantage of the tax exemption offered by the government if

they accompanied their trophies of chase when they left the country. Imagine the

"western lovers of excitement" weary after their escapades of slaughter,

standing around the bar comparing elephant heads and swapping stories on how hunting

an elephant required great coolness, great endurance, and an excellent rifle.

Big game hunting was a serious sport for serious people with requests for permission

to hunt in Cambodia coming as far away as Buffalo Head Ranch, High River, Alberta,

Canada. When things were quiet in the Philippines the American army would come into

town for a spot of hunting. Captain Atkinson and Captain Snyder, arrived in Cambodia

from Manila in March 1928 on board the "Sisiman". Between just the two

of them they carried two Springfield rifles, three automatic pistols, one Winchester,

a shotgun, one Kreg and one Newton, plus a few thousand rounds of ammunition.

They would have gone to Kratie and Kompong Thom, the two areas of Cambodia considered

to be the richest in wild game. With their local porters, who were paid 0.4 piastres

a day, carrying enough arms to ward off a possible attack from the Phnongs (a minority

group in Kratie who often rebelled against the French and were a constant security

threat) they set off in oxen carts into the vast and deep forests where they would

encounter, tigers, panthers, rhinoceros, wild boar, goats, and where hunters were

allowed unlimited kills without any taxes being imposed. Amongst their party would

have been locally hired butchers who would have prepared the carcasses for the return

journey. Only the elephants were prohibited game and could only be killed in self-defense,

a right that was not permitted to the elephant.

But even though elephants were somewhat protected during the 1920s they were declining

in numbers not only from illegal hunting but also as a result of technology which

replaced the elephant for many tasks. As the author of an unsigned piece of prose

lamented in the 1920s:

"The elephants are leaving... in this utilitarian century they are of no practical

use anymore. They are going like everything that is big and unnecessary. Today they

are not much more than remnants of the past, that are kept to show off in the pomp

of Asian ceremonies. They are leaving... taking with them the grandeur and glitter

of the glorious past..."

Information for this article came from National Archives of Cambodia, file numbers

2995, 2996, 9999, and the booklet "Big Game Hunting in Cambodia". The National

Archives is located behind the National Library at Wat Phnom.

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