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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former poacher turns protector and guide

Former poacher turns protector and guide

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Guide Po Seah in the forest.

F

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

Conservation Program.

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."

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