Benjamin Joseph Davis – a well-known natural resource conservationist and environmentalist in Cambodia for the past decade or so whom the King granted citizenship to in January of this year – has dug more than 30km of trenches around the area under his protection to prevent the wildlife there from straying into farmers’ fields and eating their crops, but also to keep them away from traps set by poachers.
Davis, known to most in the Kingdom simply as Ben, was mostly recently digging a protective ditch in the Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok wildlife sanctuary in Preah Vihear province, but the project ran out of funds during the rainy season so he decided to suspend work for a while.
After hearing about this problem, the founder of the Eatame website, which is an online marketplace for local community-made goods – started up a “Let’s Play the $1 Game” campaign to help Ben complete his canals and protect Cambodia’s forests and wildlife.
Ben told The Post on September 18 that the main purpose of digging the ditches was to keep animals from eating farmers’ crops and keep them from getting caught in traps like snares or pits.
“Animals go to eat people’s crops and the people are then angry and they set traps and hunt them, so we lose a lot of wildlife, which is why we have to dig trenches and build fences in some places,” he said.
“The budget received from the Ministry of Environment is just $20,000 a year. We have already used all of that money up and we still lack about $60,000 to finish digging the canals for another 16km,” he continued.
He said that, according to their plans, they plan to dig a protective ditch with a length of 32km at a depth of 2.5m. So far they’ve dug about 16km of the planned route.
“Maybe in the dry season we will start digging again because we also have to observe what percentage of the digging is actually effective and what percentage is subsequently lost to landslides, though we have planted 13,000 bamboo trees along these canals to prevent landslides,” he said.
The founder of the Eatame Facebook page and website went up to Preah Vihear to see Ben’s work in person. He said that seeing Ben – a foreigner – struggling mightily to protect Cambodia’s natural resources inspired him to find a way to help.
So he launched a campaign called “$1 for Ben’s Canals to protect Cambodia’s forests and wildlife.” He said that through this campaign he hopes that environmentally conscious Cambodians will show their support by donating at least $1 each to support the digging of the protective canals.
Ben said that in about two days of taking donations, the campaign has already raised nearly $20,000.
“I am thankful and happy to see so many Cambodians involved in funding the digging of this canal. We are continuing to ask those who are willing to help to give what they can because we still lack about $40,000 now at the current donation total. Hopefully all of the work will be completed by 2023, but if there are no funds to carry it out then it will end completely,” he said.
He said that each year during the dry season the wild animals venture out of the forest to eat farmers’ crops, because the area adjacent to the farms and fields is a core natural area with thick forests.
“Every year, when the wild animals go and eat the farmers’ crops, we pay the farmers $1,000 or sometimes even $2,000 in compensation, but now the farmers are suing us and asking for too much money, but we have no money to pay them.
“We believe that the digging of this canal will reduce the number of animals entering the plantations because most of the animals are in this area, which is densely forested,” he said.
He also revealed that the Natural Resources and Wildlife Conservation Area in the Phnom Tnaot–Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, which the environment ministry collaborated on with him to develop as an eco-tourist destination, is preparing to welcome tourists in the coming dry season.
Environment ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra thanked all Cambodians and others who donated for their contributions to the protection and management of natural resources and wildlife in the Phnom Pok–Phnom Tnaot Wildlife Sanctuary.
“The digging of the canal is a measure that was approved by the ministry as a way to prevent wildlife from leaving the protected area and to mark the boundaries of the site to identify it as a core area for high-level conservation and wildlife protection. Once flooded, the canals will also provide an additional source of water for the wildlife that lives in the area,” he said.
He said the ministry has approved Ben and his family’s participation in the protection and conservation of forests and wildlife and provided him with both material and financial support and that they have worked well with the park rangers and the community throughout all of the projects they’ve undertaken in the Kingdom.
He also noted that the ministry – through the Social and Environmental Fund – assisted Ben and the sanctuary community with developing the area as an eco-tourism destination with funds in the amount of $20,000 per year for 5 years starting from 2019 and this year should see their first guests arrive.