Snares remained a challenge for wildlife in Cambodia’s protected areas, and result in the loss of many of the Kingdom’s endangered species.

In order to address the problem, in 2021, the Ministry of Environment and partner organisations removed over 60,000 snares from 72 protected areas and biodiversity corridors in Cambodia. On a more local level, new measures are being employed.

As part of his efforts to reduce wildlife traps, American environmentalist Benjamin Joseph Davis, the protector of the Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province, is digging more than 30km of canals to prevent wildlife from eating farmer’s crops.

“After digging these canals, we hope that the amount of crops eaten by wildlife will be reduced. The canals serve as barriers. When animals eat the crops of farmers, they often set traps and hunt the animals in retaliation. We hope that canals and fences will improve the situation,” he said.

He added that the canals would also save money, as compensations is paid to farmers who have lost crops to wildlife.

“Every year we pay thousands of dollars to farmers, so we are hoping the canals will work, although it is too soon to tell yet. During the rainy season, most wildlife is deep in the forests. It is during the dry season that the animals must search for food, and come onto contact with humans. Let us wait and see if our plan works,” he added.

He advised farmers to shift from planting potatoes to crops which wild animals do not like to eat, such as soybeans or cashews.

He said that when finished, the canal system will be 32kn long and 2m deep. So far, 16km has been completed, but heavy rains – and a shortage of funds – have caused the work to be suspended.

However, he was elated with the amount he had raised already, and thanked everyone who had contributed. Every dollar counted, he added.

“We have received more than $50,000 in donations. We will begin digging again in early December, and expect it to take four months to complete the canal system,” he said.

He said that 1,300 traps were collected in the sanctuary last year, most of them during the rainy season.

“We continue to educate the public, but there are some who do not listen to us. The main problem is that some of them earn a lot of money from the illegal wildlife trade,” he said.

“Arresting the poachers is difficult, because they know the forest so well. We have captured four of them and handed them to the provincial department of environment for punishment,” he added.

Benjamin said he, a community team and military police officers regularly patrolled the forest and collected traps, most of which were set to try and capture wild boars, red munjac and banteng.

In addition to wildlife conservation work, Benjamin welcomes domestic and international tourists under the Be Treed Adventures project to generate additional funds for his conservation work. The project was suspended due to Covid-19, but is set to resume welcoming guests early next year.

“We have a three-room guesthouse for $60 a night. We accompany them on hikes and show them waterfalls and wildlife. Sometimes we come across sambar, banteng or monkeys. In addition, the community also rents tents and bungalows,” he said.

He thanked the Ministry of Environment for providing funds for his conservation work.

“The ministry gives us $20,000 each year. They have also provided us with two motorcycles and a car, in addition to providing staff from the provincial environment department to help us investigate wildlife crimes,” he said.

According to the USAID Greening Prey Lang project, by 2022, 73 species of wildlife had been found in the Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok wildlife sanctuary, many of them endangered.

Environment ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra said the digging of the canal was approved by the ministry as a way to prevent wildlife from leaving the protected area.

Pheaktra added that the ministry had given approval to Ben and his family to participate in the protection and conservation of forests and wildlife. The ministry provided financial and material support, and park rangers worked closely with the communities living in the area.

He said community participation and law enforcement and combined to make the area an attractive eco-tourism destination.

“Forest and wildlife protection is very important, not only to maintain the abundance of wildlife in the forest, but also to attracting tourists. This builds the local economy and creates jobs, through things like accommodation, food and guiding tours,” he added.

Pheaktra said that when it came to snares, the ministry generally tried to educate people, although the gravity of the offending was always taken into consideration.

“In minor cases, we will reprimand them and explain why what they are doing is wrong. If they are hunting an endangered species, however, then we will not hesitate to prosecute them,” he added.

Chantha Nasak, a wildlife specialist with Fauna and Flora International, an international conservation group, said that traps were the enemies of all wildlife, and had a serious impact in Cambodia.

“Illegal snaring causes serious damage to wildlife in protected areas, and also affects people who collect non-timber forest products and serve the tourism sector. Snaring makes a massive contribution to increasing the Kingdom’s biodiversity crisis,” he added.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Cambodia) country director Seng Teak said the snare crisis was not just happening in Cambodia, and in fact was even more serious in some other countries in the region.

“Losing wildlife due to snaring is a real problem, so I commend the government for mobilising its partners to raise awareness among the public about the issue,” he said.

He stressed that efforts to eradicate snares required participation by all citizens, as well as the state.

He said the world’s wildlife had declined by an average of 68 per cent, and marine, freshwater and terrestrial animals all required conservation attention.

The environment ministry and its partners just wrapped up a six-month long zero snaring campaign which targeted Stung Treng, Preah Vihear, Kratie, Mondulkiri, Kampong Thom and Ratanakkiri provinces.

The ministry said the results of the campaign were more positive than expected, with its message reaching more than three million people.

Eliminating traps and snares would allow biodiversity to flourish naturally and make ecosystems more sustainable, it said.