Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rampant poaching guts Virachey National Park

Rampant poaching guts Virachey National Park

Rampant poaching guts Virachey National Park

T high-ranking environmental official in the government has told the Post that rampant

trade in illegal wildlife within Virachey National Park (VNP) is proving a major

threat to conservation efforts in the area.

The greatest damage is being done in the remote area of the park that juts between

Vietnam and Laos, known as the Dragon's Tail - an area blessed with unique biodiversity

and natural resources but hampered by illegal activites and the lack of clear border

demarcation.

Virachey is experiencing environmental degradation, unsustainable resource extraction,

human population pressure, unclear boundaries and uncontrollable wildfires, according

to a report of the VNP Management Plan 2003-2007 issued by the Ministry of Environment.

The report claims that poaching of endangered fauna to feed the demands of the illegal

wildlife trade is a major threat to the park's future.

"Because the border with Vietnam and Laos has not yet been demarcated, it is

difficult to keep the scale of illegal wildlife trade under control because we cannot

access the areas where there are still no poles along the border," said the

official, who declined to be named. "But we have had negotiations with our partners

in Vietnam and Laos at the local level which are aimed at granting access to areas

for wildlife patrols."

The report said that the Virachey park, contiguous with protected areas in both Laos

and Vietnam and with other protected areas in Cambodia, must receive effective international

collaboration for these areas to be managed.

The report concludes that synchronized programs must be launched to facilitate information

sharing, patrols, community development, tourism, data management and a regional

security strategy.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, Undersecretary of State for the Environment, told the Post on

June 23 that a management plan has been undertaken to ensure sustainable conservation

of biodiversity and natural resources in the park because of the high potential for

tourist visits.

The report said the conservation of Virachey's ecosystem could lead to its recognition

as a World Heritage Site (WHS).

The inclusion of Virachey Park on the WHS list would require that all the various

protected areas be under close supervision. It would also open up the opportunity

to receive funding from UNESCO to carry out management activities that would otherwise

not have been possible due to the limited funding for Virachey.

The government borrowed $2.09 million from the World Bank, and the Global Environmental

Facility (DFE) granted $2.24 million for a four-year project to assist capacity building,

park protection and management and community development, according to a World Bank

document.

"The project's goal is to improve the capabilities in the Ministry of Environment

to plan, implement and effectively monitor National Protected Areas," the document

said. "This includes developing and testing proactive measures to minimize unsustainable

exploitation and degradation of the biodivesity of national and global significance

in the VNP."

Tu Sopheak, Virachey Park project manager, has said the local authorities have had

good cooperation in patrolling the park to ensure there is no wildlife poaching,

illegal logging or unauthorized prospecting for gold.

"We have had good cooperation for our crackdown on crimes that occur in the

park," he said. "And criminal activity has been decreasing since 2004.

We estimate that about 80 percent of the park is being kept under control and we

are working to maintain the cultural values of the [ethnic] minority groups."

Virachey National Park covers 3,325 square km in Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces

in northeastern Cambodia.

Both Laos and Vietnam have protected areas adjacent to Virachey and experts say that

all the areas should be considered a single protected area with the primary objective

of conserving biodiversity. The total area under protection across the three countries

is approximately 820,000 hectares, making it one of the biggest protected areas in

Asia.

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