Wildlife outside the zoo is hard to spot without camera traps, but their meat can be found on unwritten menus – through the whispers of sellers – in some local restaurants in Koh Kong and several other provinces.

As of April last year, when the first phase of the Ministry of Environment-led zero snaring campaign came to a close, at least 52 restaurants had “voluntarily” stopped selling wild game. Several more committed to cease serving such items during the second phase of the initiative.

With authorities vowing to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking, some NGOs are also working towards the same goal by educating the public to say no to bush meat.

USAID Cambodia Green Future Activity is one of the projects targeting the reduction of forest game consumption by promoting behavioural change among the public.

It created materials and messages about the dangers of purchasing and consuming meats such as red muntjac, wild pigs, snakes, turtles and deer, and launched the #Talk2ProtectOurWildlife campaign.

“During the field testing of these messages, we learned that bush meat consumption exists for a number of reasons. Some mistakenly believe there are health benefits, while others view it as a status symbol,” said Ouk Sisovann, Chief of Party USAID Cambodia Green Future Activity,

“Some want to try something new. In certain social settings, some may submit to peer pressure or follow the crowd,” he added.

The nocturnal Malayan porcupine, seen here at night when it is most active, also falls prey to snares and hunters, who desire its quills and its meat. Environment Ministry

Sisovann said people should say 'no' to wild game because buying and eating it contributes to the loss of wildlife and is harmful to forest ecosystems. He emphasised that consuming the meat supports illegal hunting and the selling of wild animals.

“If there is a demand, there will be a supply,” he said.

Citing various research studies, he said bush meat can cause rabies, SARS, yellow fever, Lyme disease, West Nile, monkeypox, histoplasmosis and hantavirus.

He urged the public to see the great benefits of having natural fauna, such as turning wildlife-populated areas into ecotourism sites, which can generate income for the local community.

“We encourage Cambodians to discuss this topic with their friends, family and communities to increase awareness about the dangers of buying and consuming bush meat,” he said.

Khvay Atiya, spokesperson for the ministry, said that wildlife trafficking has decreased considerably following various campaigns. He noted that restaurants that promised to stop serving bush meat have maintained their commitment.

A selection of species which can be found in the Kingdom's forests. Although the trade in bush meat is decreasing, many species remain under threat. Environment Ministry

He said that in the meantime, the ministry is strengthening legal enforcement, including combating encroachment on natural resources, which also includes wildlife protection, and enforcing the law without clemency.

Atiyanoted other aligned activities include promoting the livelihoods of local people, planting more trees and combating illegal logging.

“We also found that the number of wildlife has increased, including the discovery of rare and highly endangered species at Phnom Thmar Kambor in Battambang province,” he said.

“Our research specialists have also found new species in coastal areas, totaling up to 700 discovered during the study, from 2023 to now,” he added.

Atiya noted that more and more people are participating in the campaign to protect wildlife, which is crucial for wildlife conservation and natural resource protection.