Guide Po Seah in the forest.
or the past year, Po Seah has roamed the Cardamom Mountains as a conservation guide,
confiscating illegal snares and setting heat-sensitive camera traps to capture photos
of rare animals.
It wasn't always this way. Seah, who is 30, made his living in the forest of Koh
Kong for 18 months as a hunter. He started 10 years ago collecting rare kresna wood,
sold for its valuable fragrant oil. He then turned to hunting, killing boars and
deer as part of a team of ten.
"I had an AK-47 when I was a hunter," he says. "I had two guns for
hunting meat. One I handed back to the commanding officer in Thma Bang and one I
hid in the bush. I've never been back."
A ranger advisor with environmental NGO Conservation International persuaded Seah
to switch from poaching to protecting. He now works alongside staff from the Department
of Forestry and Wildlife as well as with the local military police on the Cardamom
The Cardamoms span more than one million hectares of Cambodia's southwest and are
home to much of the country's most endangered species. Among these are Siamese crocodiles,
elephants and tigers. CI aims to get 400,000 hectares of the Central Cardamoms on
Cambodia's world heritage nomination list by October.
Seah's beat is a 30 kilometer stretch of forest surrounding the Thma Bang ranger
base. His extensive knowledge of both hunting and the area is put to good use. He
leads the conservation team on its bush patrols, and has become an expert on camera
traps. His only gripe is the low pay, which is endemic for Cambodians in formal work.
"I only get $30 a month and an extra $2 a day when I go out with the teams.
It isn't enough but I have no choice, because I want to do volunteer work and preserve
the environment. I think I will be a ranger for a long time."
As a former poacher he knows his adversaries.
"When we find these traps we take them, which means the hunters don't have any
weapons," Seah says. "I know who the traps belong to and I tell them not
to do it again. Things are better but it has not stopped completely."
Among the rich wildlife heritage of the area captured by Seah on camera are bears,
golden cats, crocodiles, deer, boars, wild pigs, wild dogs, elephants, monkeys and
civets. The endangered gibbon has thus far proved elusive.
"The gibbon is impossible to camera trap because they are in the trees,"
he says, "but I know the gibbon sound."