The Ministry of Environment on December 28 issued a report detailing crackdowns on illegal activities in protected natural areas and biodiversity conservation corridors.
According to the report, forest rangers responded to 8,917 cases of natural resource crimes over the past 12 months, an increase of 3,442 cases, or 63 per cent, over last year’s 5,475 reported incidents.
Rangers had logged 27,588 patrols for the year, up from 24,048 the previous year, but the number of cases sent to courts for prosecution had declined from 631 to 605.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post that, this year, rangers and officials had patrolled 68 protected natural areas covering 7.3 million hectares, representing a significant increase of patrol coverage.
“This highlights efforts by rangers and relevant partners to conserve our country’s natural resources, especially by removing snares from these protected sites to help save wild animals. We see that the number of snares removed has increased, and we have rescued many animals as well,” he said.
The report recorded 4,004 confiscated chainsaws, up from 3,494 last year, and 43,270 animal traps had been removed, up from 39,382.
Pheaktra added that during the patrols, rangers had also cooperated with communities in and around protected areas to stop violations by raising awareness and educating local residents.
“Given the degree to which we have cracked down, it means that we have helped stop many natural resource crimes like poaching and illegal land occupation,” he said.
Pheaktra described most cases as pertaining to unlawful encroachment on forests and harvesting of natural resources, particularly poaching timber and wild animals.
“Large-scale natural resource crimes no longer exist – there are only small-scale crimes. We must continue our efforts to eliminate these natural resource crimes in the future,” he said.
Chea Hean, director of the environmental watchdog ACNCIPO, observed that incidences of such crimes were increasing in Kampong Speu, Pursat, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces where people were encroaching on state forest land and clearing it for private ownership.
“This type of crime has increased because law enforcement by national and sub-national level officials has not been effective. Some local officials have colluded with offenders so natural resource crimes like forest land encroachment and logging have continued to happen,” he said.
Forest conservation activist Kroeung Tola in Mondulkiri province said the prevalence of timber poaching activities was attributable to the economic damage imposed by responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We see that the forest crimes have not decreased – rather, they are on the rise. These crimes are occurring now because traders have come to buy timber, and as people lack jobs and owe money to banks, they have resorted to illegal logging,” he said.