The first province to see the latest “Stop Wildlife Trafficking” campaign, an extension of the successful zero snaring campaign, was Mondulkiri province in the northeast of Cambodia, an area which is rich in natural resources and wildlife in protected areas.
The six-week campaign was launched on October 22 by the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Mondulkiri provincial Department of Environment, the Forestry Administration and other key partners.
The campaign aims to encourage restaurant owners in the province to join the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking by stopping the sale of bush meat in their restaurants and promoting a ban on eating wild animals.
Billboards have been posted in Sen Monorom City, Mondulkiri province, which warn the public of the health risks inherent in the consumption of bush meat. It also has an outsize environmental impact. Many of the banners explain that wildlife must be left to live in the forest, and that socially conscious people do not eat wild animals.
Environment ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra, who is leading the campaign, said it is the follow up to a six-month zero-snaring campaign in six protected provinces, which provided positive results.
He added that the campaign focuses on restaurant owners and it is expected that its activities will contribute to raising public awareness of the health risks associated with eating bush meat, and will change their mindsets.
“This latest campaign will complement what we have worked hard for. So far, we have had a commitment from 32 restaurant owners that they will not sell wild meat. We intend to spend six weeks in Mondulkiri, as it is a major tourist destination,” he said.
He thanked the restaurant owners for backing the campaign, assuring them their participation was essential. The zero-snaring campaign had reached out to other countries in the region and has received compliments for its results from neighbouring countries, he added.
Pheaktra said officials had been diligent in pursuing any leads they received on the sale of illegal meat. In the past 18 months, officials in Modulkiri province had confiscated 1,353 kilogrammes of bush meat.
Overwhelming local support
Deputy provincial governor Chan Ratana announced his support for the campaign, saying he recognised its importance to the conservation of wildlife. He intended to continue to disseminate its message to the district and municipal administrations of the province.
“We have recently sent many cases to court over wildlife trafficking. In addition, we have been carrying out regular patrols in the wildlife sanctuaries. If we don’t get out there in the forest and make our presence felt, we might just as well do nothing,” he said.
He added that wildlife conservation in Sre Pok has improved markedly, and was especially pleased to announce that there were more than 20 wild elephants present at the conservation areas in Keo Seima and Koh Nhek.
Oum Samorn, owner of Ramorn Pub in Mondulkiri province, refuses to trade in bush meat, saying that the fewer people ate it, the richer in wildlife the surrounding forests would be. He believed that protecting the natural resources of the province were key to encouraging tourists to visit.
“When I opened my restaurant six years ago, customers would ask if there was bush meat available. I decided to put up a sign very clearly explaining that I do not trade in wild animals. When people ask if I stock roe deer, fallow deer or wild boar meat, I simply point to the sign, and explain my position,” he said.
He called on tourists and other restaurants in Mondulkiri – as well as local residents – to commit to stop trading in or consuming wild animals because they are exposing themselves not just to legal action, but to disease.
He said that vendors call him almost every day, asking if he wants to order bush meat, but he always declines.
“When I first made it clear that I would not serve wild animals, a small number of guests berated me and said they would no longer dine here. Some of my old customers have told me that if you refuse to sell bush meat in Mondulkiri, your restaurant is not considered modern. Sometimes, I have no idea how to get through to these people,” he added.
WWF country director Seng Teak said that the Stop Wildlife Trafficking Campaign was a welcome extension of the “Zero Snaring Campaign” which has run successfully in six provinces for the past six months.
“The zero-snaring campaign shared an important message to the public, with more than 1.5 million people interacting with the campaign on social media,” he said.
He said that in the past six months, the WWF team has compiled more than 610 articles related to wildlife and evaluated the reach of the campaign. In Stung Treng province, 130,000 people, about 80 percent of the population, received messages about the zero snaring campaign.
In Ratanakkiri province, according to a survey of 94 people on the street, 68 per cent said they had received messages from the zero-snaring campaign.
He stressed the importance of participation from restaurant owners and was pleased that the environment ministry had provided certificates of appreciation as encouragement to them.
“All areas of Southeast Asia are facing trapping crises like Cambodia. There are more than 12.3 million traps that threaten the region’s wildlife. Cambodia is so far the only country to focus on this serious threat,” he said.
Thanks to his part in these efforts, Teak was invited to speak and share his experiences with the campaign to the WWF Asia Working Group.
“WWF is an international organisation with offices in more than 100 countries around the world. So, whenever there are good initiatives, WWF also share the practice. The zero-snaring campaign has shown many positive ideas about leadership, management and the resolution of the trap crisis,” he said.
“I would like to stress another important point. The campaign relies on a culture of working together and upholding common interests. Working together means including the participation of the public, the private sector and civil society, to solve common problems,” he added.
He added that it was unfortunate that the illegal sale of wildlife was still going on in Mondulkiri, although the campaign has been going on for several months.
“According to a 2018 report by Fauna & Flora International, bush meat is still sold on national roads, in provincial towns and in some markets and restaurants,” he said.
According to the report, some restaurants promote and encourage the consumption of bush meat to their customers. The report also stated that wildlife consumers are between 35 to 60 years old, and tend to be visitors with disposable incomes.
The report added that those people did not see themselves as participating in the illegal trading of wildlife. They don’t feel that they are doing anything wrong, and were sceptical about the health risks associated with bush meat.
“These are some of the major factors behind the importance of a wide reaching education campaign. It was also important that we approach service providers in restaurants, resorts, hotels,” he said.
Restaurant owners playing their part
Yean Yoeun, a 42-year-old restaurateur, appealed to all customers visiting Mondulkiri to say no to eating bush meat.
“People used to try to sell it to me, but I have never bought it. I have been to enough meetings with the environment department to understand the harm it does,” he said.
Mondulkiri environment department deputy director Roth Sovann said that he encouraged restaurant owners in the province to join the fight against wildlife trafficking. He had also introduced measures to educate the public.
Sovann said that so far this year, his department had rescued seven wild animals and recovered 17kg of mixed bush meat. They had confiscated four motorcycles, one heavy vehicle, 18 trees and 171 pieces of timber in the course of their work, and reprimanded 378 people.
Ou Sopheakdey, chief of the Mondulkiri provincial Forestry Administration Cantonment, said the campaign made a positive contribution to the protection of natural resources and the conservation of endangered biodiversity.
He hoped that after joining the campaign, members of the public would have a better understanding about the activities surrounding wildlife trafficking and the risks of eating bush meat.
Sok Sambath, 53-year-old resident who observed the campaign launch in Sen Monorom town, said he was pleased to see officials taking care to protect the province’s wildlife.
He hoped that through this campaign, people would stop selling, eating and trading in wildlife.
“There used to be bush meat for sale in many of the markets – and even in the streets. People used to eat it regularly. Thanks to wide-spread education from the authorities, it doesn’t appear to be sold openly anymore. If it is being sold, it is being done in secret,” he added.
The WWF said that more than 60 per cent of all new viruses transmitted from animals to humans have been similar to or more dangerous than Covid-19.
“When you consume bush meat, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Likewise, the hunting, transportation, trafficking and processing of wildlife are all examples of direct contact which could facilitate the transfer of a virus from an animal to a human,” it warned.