The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with partner organisations, has launched the “Zero-Snaring in Cambodia’s Protected Areas” campaign in six provinces east of the Mekong River.

The campaign – launched on March 3 as the world celebrated World Wildlife Day and will run through October – will disseminate information about the impact of snares and change people’s attitudes towards wildlife.

Ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra hoped it would have an impact on poaching and the wildlife trade.

He said that while standards of protection and conservation of natural resources – the habitat of wildlife in Cambodia – were generally good, more could be done to improve the safety of wildlife in protected areas.

He warned that snares were a major threat to wildlife, saying 61,611 snares were discovered and removed in 2021, a worrying increase of 20 per cent on the 2020 figures.

“Snares are masked killers that continue to kill our precious wildlife. Some use electricity, some break limbs and some kill by strangulation – all are deadly. This campaign will play a big part in raising awareness of this scourge of our forests and reducing the number of these lethal traps,” he said.

Kim Nong, head of the ministry’s General Department for Natural Conservation, said the campaign aimed to make local people – some of whom were accustomed to snaring wildlife – understand the unique value of preserving wildlife and obey the law.

He added that trapping offences are third-level natural resource violations, for which offenders could face up to five years in prison and fines of up to 150 million riel ($37,000).

“We will work together on this campaign for six months. During this time we encourage local authorities and communities to work together to educate one another about the value of wildlife – as well as the legal consequences of harming it,” he said.

WWF country director Seng Teak said that while only around 20 per cent of snares were set in protected areas, they remained a major threat to biodiversity.

Citing reports released in 2020, he said there were about 12 million snares in Southeast Asia.

“Snares are a major contributor to the loss of rare animals in the world, such as tigers, leopards and bears. WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature] urges authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of rare wildlife killings, as well as restaurants or areas where wildlife is traded, to help protect endangered Cambodia wildlife from extinction,” he said.

Chhith Sam Ath, a representative of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Prey Lang Baitong project, said if there were no specific measures aimed at the snaring of wildlife, the crimes would persist daily and the Kingdom would continue to lose its rich and diverse wildlife.

“Outreach programmes and law enforcement are a must for local communities,” he added.

Bou Vorsak, Cambodia programme manager at BirdLife International, said it was important to remember that the snares were also responsible for the loss of birdlife, noting that three giant ibis were rescued from snares in 2021.