The World Wildlife Fund yesterday commemorated “World Ranger Day” with an honour roll of park rangers – a Cambodian among them – killed in the line of duty over the past 12 months, a bid to draw attention to the lack of support and protection, particularly insurance, afforded them.
Among the 107 rangers verified as having died in the past 12 months was Seang Darong, shot last November by suspected illegal loggers in Preah Vihear province.
Currently, Cambodian rangers receive small salaries and no insurance.
One 41-year-old Environment Ministry ranger in Battambang, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the press, said he and his colleagues carry on their dangerous work in spite of minimal compensation.
“Our salary is small, but we like this job. We like patrolling to take care of the forest and the wildlife,” he said, adding that while they risk their lives every time they patrol, they receive no insurance from the ministry.
But there is a move under way to change that, Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said yesterday.
“The Ministry of Environment has taken a strong position for supporting [them]. Successfully, the government decided [in 2014] to double the salary for rangers from 160,000 riel [nearly $40] to 320,000 [$80],” Sopheap said.
“I got an estimate yesterday that it’s now up to 400,000 [$98], so this is really significant in terms of our consideration and concern [for] rangers, who play a very important role in protecting our natural resources and forestry.”
Sopheap added that talks are also taking place between his ministry and the ministries of public functions and economy and finance to have rangers moved onto a civil servant contract, which would entitle them to national social security and retirement benefits.
Rangers sometimes collaborate with police and military police for protection, he said, but do not carry their own weapons, something that may change.
“They’ve been discussing also how to arm the rangers, but that is still being worked out,” he said. “A few trainings [have] already been organised . . . so they can have better knowledge and capacity in terms of handling weapons and patrolling techniques.”
Ross Sinclair, country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which frequently works with rangers, described rangers as “the frontline in protecting Cambodia’s natural heritage” and called for them to receive greater support.
“If Cambodia is to hold these natural treasures, [it] requires sufficient support from government and development partners to put a large ranger force in the field, and for that force to be highly professional,” he said. “We also need to better protect rangers. In November 2015, two rangers were killed in Preah Vihear when they were defending forest against illegal loggers.
“Without them, quite simply, the forests would be gone and the wildlife disappear.”