Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former hunters help save Srepok wildlife

Former hunters help save Srepok wildlife

Former hunters help save Srepok wildlife



Former hunter Lean Kha (left) guides a boat up the Srepok River with fellow park ranger Prach Pich Phirun, March 20.

Hunter turned gamekeeper Lean Kha said he killed six tigers during his days as a poacher. Now it’s his job to protect his former prey.


Kha is one of about 20 rangers in Mondulkiri’s Srepok Wilderness Area who have been recruited by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for a conservation and ecotourism project. 


The WWF launched the project three years ago in this remote forest, which has been likened to Africa’s famed Serengeti for its abundant wildlife.


The group wants to establish an environment where wildlife can recover after years of hunting, poaching and neglect. Richer wildlife, they hope, will attract tourists and consequently encourage the government to make the area a priority. 


The WWF organized a cycling expedition in March for tourism operators and media in Srepok to test the waters for ecological and adventure tourism.


The fund says the park, once developed, could attract tourists from around the world to watch birds, fish in the river, cycle and take safaris.


The plan includes building a luxury tourist lodge on the banks of the Srepok River with capacity for 60 people and a riverside bar and restaurant.


“The lodge will help the community by giving people work,” says Kha, who has made his living from the forest for more than 30 years. “Some of these people are poaching from the forest to make a living. But there would not be so many poachers if you help them find other work, if you make them wildlife guides or gives them jobs at the lodge,” he says. 


Srepok project director Craig Bruce says the WWF is in discussion with a tourism operator to take over the project. Habitat, a Spanish hotel group that currently donates funds towards the project, could be running the operation as soon as a year from now, according to Bruce.


The expected expansion of the landing strip at the Mondulkiri capital Sen Monorom will allow greater numbers of visitors quicker access to Mondulkiri, Cambodia’s most desolate province, and open up new tourism activities for the country.


Andy Brouwer, an agent for the Hanuman tour company and a participant in last month’s cycling trip, says the WFF “have an area to promote that is untouched and pristine enough to attract tourists looking for an alternative to temples and beaches.”


He adds that the cycling program is still “definitely exploratory” and “someway off being ready to receive visitors.”

Considering communities

According to the WWF, the model used at Srepok recognizes that conservation work will not succeed in an impoverished country like Cambodia unless local people see economic returns.


“We need to consider communities in the area, and the communities need to understand the conservation work,” says Bruce.

So, in addition to trying to bolster law enforcement, the WWF is helping nearby villagers develop sources of income beyond extracting from the forest.


WWF “community extension teams” talk with locals about the negative effects of hunting and how in the long run it will cut off a major resource to them. The teams are also training farmers how to improve their chicken-raising and rice production techniques.


James MacGregor, a researcher for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development who participated in last month’s cycling trip, says the WWF wants to protect the area without resorting to brute force.


One way to do this was by working with existing local talent. The WWF made a conscious effort to recruit former hunters, like Kha, to use their knowledge of the forest and expert tracking skills for constructive ends. As long-time residents of the area, they also have a rapport with local people that outsiders might never attain.


“It’s not about stopping everything, but regulating,” says MacGregor, explaining that rangers may use their discretion in certain cases, allowing villagers who have long relied on the forest to continue taking items or animals from it in controlled doses. 


“We want locals to recognize the site as a protected area and give them something back for their part. By using community rangers, many of whom were loggers and hunters before, we have people who have an intimate knowledge of the area and who know are respected by locals,” he says.


“We avoid an authoritarian manner of protecting the environment.”


Kha says wildlife in the park, which is just several kilometers from the Vietnamese border, was heavily depleted in the late 1970s and early ‘80s when battling Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese soldiers hunted the animals for food.


For the first time in a while, he says, rangers are seeing increased wildlife.


However, Srepok’s future is not certain. Project director Bruce says “well-connected” people extract resources from the area with impunity. And charred land from slash and burn clearing peppers the landscape; brush fires can be spotted at night from the hills on which Sen Monorom sits.


In addition to the logging trucks that roll through Sen Monorom in the middle of the night, local NGO officials say the regional hub has seen more “land speculation tourism.”


The number of luxury cars paying weekend visits to scout for land deals is expected to increase once new access roads are completed towards the end of next May.


Bruce says the sooner the project is up and running the better: “The time to change tide is now, while there’s still something to protect, before it’s too late.”


  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Kingdom, UN discuss rights

    A year after Cambodia received 198 recommendations from UN member countries, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR-Cambodia) met with the Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC) to discuss following-up on the Kingdom’s third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and