There are only a few extraordinary women who are brave enough to live in the forest and dedicate their lives to the protection of the environment and wild animals.
In Cambodia, a total of 1,200 rangers are carrying out this work in wildlife sanctuaries in 20 provinces in order to protect and preserve the nation’s natural resources. Out of the 1,200 rangers, only 42 of them are women. Chhit Phattavdy is proud to be one of them.
Of the 42 women, Phattavdy is the only one assigned to protection duties in the Preaek Prasab Wildlife Sanctuary, an area totalling 12,000ha in Kratie province’s Prek Prasap and Sambor districts.
A 31-year-old resident of Sambor district, Phattavdy began work as a ranger under the Kratie provincial Department of Environment in 2017 after deciding to quit her job at a private company. As a student she attended university and graduated with a degree in biology.
In a recent interview with The Post, Phattavdy says that at first no family members or relatives supported her decision to be a ranger.
“I love the forest and wild animals. This love inspired me to preserve and protect the forest in a sustainable manner. So, my heart was inspiring me to become a ranger. At first, my parents objected, asking why their daughter wanted to work in the forest.
“I explained it to them and cited the reasons that I love it and wanted to fulfil my own desires. They eventually listened to my reasoning. They no longer object to my profession and they have changed their views to allow me to follow my heart,” she says.
The life of a ranger is filled with many difficult obstacles. Phattavdy went from leading a normal life with her well-off family that was very comfortable to a life of relative hardship in the forest.
She says she now regularly patrols the forest and works to protect animals from poaching and to stop illegal logging and deforestation.
“I am committed to doing this work. At first, I was afraid because we used to live in a part of the district with many people and it was a big change to move to the forest. But my determination comes from loving nature and nature protectors have to stay in the forest. I have to be determined to do it,” she says.
“For just a month, I can easily adapt to a new life in the forest. When staying in the forest for a longer period of time, I sometimes think that it is too quiet; it is different from living near other people who are noisy and sometimes make a mess. The biggest change from city life to life in the forest is the quiet and being surrounded by nature instead of people,” she recalls.
For more than three years now, Phattavdy has been protecting Cambodia’s natural resources. Phattavdy’s resolve to carry out her duties as a ranger has provided her with a more intimate knowledge of nature and wild animals.
Aside from her love of animals, she is also doing it to benefit the next generation, so that they can know the wonders of Cambodia’s natural beauty.
“I don’t have the heart to abandon my career as a ranger. I have a dream of continuing this career for the rest of my life, protecting the natural resources of Cambodia in a sustainable manner, so it will always be here for each new generation. Right now I am expecting a child myself. I want my unborn child to one day see the land that I protect still has a forest and wild animals,” Phattavdy says.
Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra says Phattavdy is one of just a few women rangers to take an active part in protecting the natural resources of Cambodia that have been neglected or destroyed in the past.
“We are proud that the environment ministry has female rangers. Though this number is not yet large, we will try to encourage them and make it a priority to recruit more women to help protect and conserve our [natural] resources,” he says.
The ministry has continued to encourage and support female rangers because female rangers have been very effective in their ability to educate and spread the word about the protection of natural resources to other community members, Pheaktra acknowledges.
“Female rangers make many sacrifices for their career. They not only are women who have duties as mothers and wives at home, but they are also rangers who take an active part in protecting and conserving natural resources, just like male rangers. But conservation is such a big task that it is necessary for women to join,” he says.
USAID Cambodia mission director Veena Reddy tells The Post that in the current context, it is a very challenging landscape for female rangers. They face obstacles to their work that are different from their male counterparts.
Reddy says the US government values diversity and inclusion and therefore regards efforts to allow more women to participate as forest rangers as beneficial for Cambodia. It is also critical that the Cambodian government provides them with the necessary protection in order to attract more women to this line of work.
“If Cambodia provides equal access and opportunities for women in this male-dominated profession, it will help to build their skills, increase their employment opportunities, and show that women can succeed as forest rangers and contribute towards the protection of the country’s natural resources,” she underscores.
But inclusion of women in enforcement, she says, is helpful for reasons beyond the benefit to those women. Women can bring different skill sets and perspectives that can make conservation efforts more effective.
“An increase in women’s participation in conservation activities can serve to inspire Cambodia’s youth – particularly girls. Female inclusion can help conservation programmes become sustainable, assist the country to adapt to the challenges brought on by climate change, and economically empower communities in and around forests,” she says.