Environment NGO Mother Nature on Saturday debuted a new video about threatened mangroves in Koh Kong province featuring an unlikely spokesperson, or rather, spokes-puppet.

The video is about a plot of mangrove forest inside the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary that was illegally filled in with sand, allegedly by tycoon Chea Leanghong. But rather than feature actual Mother Nature activists, as the group’s past videos have, the video is narrated by a bespectacled, krama-wearing plush puppet – a move the organisation hopes will reduce the risk of its activists being arrested, as they have in the past.

As of Sunday evening, the video had been viewed some 24,000 times, and had nearly 700 shares.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, a co-founder of Mother Nature, said using puppets in their videos serves several purposes.

“Using puppets is partially aimed at minimising chances of further state-sponsored jailings of our activists, and partially aimed at ridiculing the dictatorship, as they will not find it easy to justify the jailing of a puppet,” he said in a message, adding that Mother Nature was not abandoning its old formula of using real activists on camera, but it was not yet time to resume that strategy.

Hun Vannak, a Mother Nature activist who was released from the Koh Kong prison in mid-February after spending five months behind bars for documenting suspected illegal sand-bearing vessels, said activists no longer feel safe.

“Another reason why we decided to use the puppets is because we don’t trust the Cambodian law,” he said.

However, the puppets won’t fully eliminate the possibility of activists being detained.

Gonzalez-Davidson noted that “footage gathering and investigation from the ground will still need to take place so the possibility of future arrests of our activists can’t be dismissed”.

Him Yun, with the Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability, said there have been concerns among NGOs on the shrinking of freedom of expression, but wasn’t sure if any other NGOs had also adjusted the way they carry out their work.

“But they are still working for a better society,” he said. “It’s our duty – our role.”

Meanwhile, Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum, said the government should instead be encouraging activists as “they are part of society to protect natural resources.”