Toxic pesticides used by hunters in Cambodia are poisoning humans and endangered species alike, according to a new report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Following a series of animal deaths and signs of poisoning among residents of Preah Vihear province in the first half of 2015, the WCS conducted an investigation to identify the root cause.
After a lengthy process involving the sending of samples to Singapore – no laboratory in Cambodia was equipped to conduct the analysis – WCS concluded the culprit was Carbofuran, a pesticide banned in many parts of the world, including the US and European Union, due to its high toxicity, particularly to wild birds.
The first case brought to the attention of WCS was a woolly-necked stork found dead near a waterhole by Tmabauy village in Choam Ksan district’s Pring Thom commune in January 2015.
The next month, five villagers were overcome with vomiting, stomach cramps and dizziness just minutes after drinking from the same waterhole.
More cases continued to crop up throughout the province. Entire ponds of dead fish were found with other animals – endangered species among them – lifeless at the water’s edge near bait of purple pellets mixed with rice.
According to the report, researchers found the purple pellets seemed to match a brand of Carbofuran on sale at Tbeng Meanchey district market. The theory was later confirmed by the Singapore lab tests, which found levels of the pesticide in birds’ stomachs sometimes hundreds of times the lethal dose.
Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann said the report’s findings were “a serious threat for wildlife and public health”. Carbofuran poisoning symptoms in humans range from abdominal cramps and vomiting to neurological issues and death.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Lor Raksmey said the importation of Carbofuran had been banned for some time now.
“Our officers always conduct inspections and keep an eye out for illegal sales. If we find it, we follow the law,” he said, adding that he urged anyone aware of the use or sale of the pesticide to alert the authorities.
WCS’s report urged the government to ensure the documentation of cases of poisoned wildlife and called for more training for staff tasked with investigating incidents.
It also suggested a review of legislation surrounding pesticide use, as well as laws governing hunting and intentional poisoning of wildlife.
WCS technical adviser Alistair Mould said that just as important as legislation was raising public awareness about the danger and harm caused by the use of pesticides for hunting.
A television campaign is now in the works as part of a collaboration between WCS, Birdlife International, the WWF, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity and the Environment Ministry, he added.
In the past 12 months, the WCS has documented six instances of suspected poisoning, although Mould conceded that until further research was conducted, it would be impossible to tell the scale of the problem.