NGO Wildlife Alliance’s rangers seized an AK-47 assault rifle, four chainsaws, metal snares and other miscellaneous items from a suspect at Roveang Station in the northern Cardamom Mountains last week.
The arsenal of hunting gear also included a set of machetes – strong evidence that the offender was using the weapons to hunt wildlife for consumption in Cambodia or to be sent to a middleman for trafficking into Vietnam or China.
“Homemade guns are commonly seized by the rangers, with Wildlife Alliance seizing more than 700 rifles since the establishment of the Cardamom Rainforest Protection Programme in 2002,” the NGO said on Monday.
This wasn’t the first confiscation of an assault rifle by the NGO, and it served as a reminder that some forest criminals carry weapons which pose far more of a threat than the more prevalent but poorly constructed homemade guns capable of firing only one round at a time.
Assault rifles like AK-47s can be used by criminals to intimidate others, including those attempting to stop them from committing forest crimes. Firing rounds into the air while being pursued by rangers is one technique that’s been used in the past.
Wildlife Alliance’s rangers may well confiscate more assault rifles as they continue to patrol almost 1.5 million hectares of the Cardamom Rainforest Landscape in an attempt to stop wildlife trafficking and deforestation.
The NGO said the confiscated weapons demonstrate the importance of highly effective law enforcement, including rigorous ranger training to ensure they are equipped to deal with any challenges they face in their line of work.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry asked the government for permission to allow all rangers to be armed on their patrols and it was granted. He said all 1,260 rangers have been equipped with guns while on patrol since last year.
“They have been training to use firearms and studying firearms laws. We allow them to take the weapons along to protect themselves because we do not know if an offender is armed or not. They are often covered by darkness, making it easy for them to harm rangers,” he said.