World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Cambodia) regards the Ministry of Environment rangers as the guardians of healthy forests that help mitigate the risk of future zoonotic diseases infecting humans in the same manner that Covid-19 likely did.

In a press statement marking World Ranger Day on July 31, it said they are the frontline defenders against future pandemics and they are also the key to safeguarding the way of life for people whose cultures are inseparable from nature.

In the eastern plains and Mekong flooded forest landscapes, a total of 200 rangers and river guardians are working day and night to preserve the biological diversity and ecosystem services that are critical for life including food, water, energy and clean air.

Preserving biodiversity will in turn hopefully create jobs and income for local communities through eco-tourism eventually.

According to WWF-Cambodia, rangers are exposed to difficult and hazardous job conditions such as floods, fires, dangerous animals, malaria and dengue fever. They also run the risk of being targeted personally because they intervene in incidents involving illegal hunting, logging, fishing and land encroachment.

“Whether it’s removing snares, preventing wildlife poaching and habitats destruction from illegal logging to combating the illegal wildlife trade at its source, these rangers work tirelessly to enforce Cambodia’s laws while stopping direct contacts between humans and the high risk wildlife trade,” the NGO said.

“WWF honours all of the dedicated rangers who every day risk their lives to protect Cambodia’s natural treasure trove, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis,” said WWF-Cambodia country director Seng Teak.

He said the organisation continues to work closely with the government, environment ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as well as sub-national authorities on managing protected areas and fishery conservation zones.

“I urge the government to take appropriate measures to end the trade in wild animals – especially mammals, birds and reptiles – which are at high risk of potentially transmitting diseases to humans,” Teak added.

The Ministry of Environment on July 31 observed World Ranger Day in remembrance of rangers who either lost their lives or were injured in the line of duty protecting the environment and Cambodia’s natural resources.

The ministry said rangers have devoted themselves physically and mentally to protect Cambodia’s natural and cultural heritages.

Cambodia first observed the event in 2017 with a ceremony attended by government officials, representatives of international conservation organisations, Buddhist monks and students, among others.

To bring the rangers’ efforts to light, the ministry has launched a publicity campaign, featuring them in stories and even composing songs about their dedication. It has also handed out over 100 certificates of excellence to outstanding rangers in recognition of their devotion to the nation and nature.

The celebration aims to raise public awareness about the role of forest rangers in Cambodia and to urge the public to assist the rangers with protecting, managing and conserving natural resources and the environment in a sustainable manner.

“In the last eight years, two rangers have lost their lives while many others have been injured by attacks by criminals during their mission to save the environment and nature,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also said it is working to encourage more women to enlist in the rangers, as currently there are only 42 out of a total of 1,200 rangers deployed across the 75 protected natural areas and biodiversity corridors which cover 7.3 million hectares of land in 21 provinces.

“Woman rangers are fulfilling their tasks like their male colleagues in patrolling the forest, enforcing the laws and raising awareness about the laws and the importance of natural resources and biodiversity in the communities in and around the protected areas across the country,” the ministry said.