Buddhist monks and communities have noticed a significant reduction in wildlife presence in the Sorng Rukahvorn Community Forest over the last three years. Rare species such as gaur (king of wild bovine), lesser mouse deer, Indian hog deer, racoons, and various wild birds have been particularly affected.

Venerable Tho Thou Ros, the community’s leader, shared with The Post on June 6 that in the past, with the arrival of the rainy season and a few heavy rains, the forest would turn lush green, providing abundant opportunities for wildlife in the ponds. He expressed his shock at the decline in animal footprints compared to previous years.

“On that auspicious occasion, my team and I used to find hundreds of animal footprints, especially from gaur, lesser mouse deer, Indian hog deer, and roes, which are rare species that come out to feed. But now, the footprints of these herds have significantly reduced,” he said.

Venerable Tho Thou Ros, on June 1, led a team to patrol the Sorng Rukahvorn forest and install camera traps to monitor wildlife movement. Unfortunately, two cameras were damaged during a recent wildfire. Through patrols and camera data, they discovered that the loss of footprints from rare animals in the past few years was due to criminal activities. These criminals illegally enter the forest to hunt and trap animals, while some plantation owners use illegal electrical shock devices near wire fences, leading to animal deaths and injuries.

“Between mid-2020 and early 2023, we found three to six gaurs and deer dead in traps each year. Additionally, many more animals were found injured or lost limbs due to traps,” he added.

Venerable Tho Thou Ros called for increased cooperation among all stakeholders, especially communities and local authorities, to prevent natural resource crimes. He emphasised the need for awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of forests, wildlife, and the cessation of hunting and consumption of wild meat.

Oeun Saloeun, a resident of Kork Sampor village in Lumtong commune, Anlong Veng district of Oddar Meanchey province, where the community forest locates, recounted that a few years ago, during heavy rains, he would see herds of 10-15 gaurs and deer grazing on grass and plant leaves. However, they have not appeared in the last two years.

“In the past, they used to come to my rubber plantations, sometimes clashing with each other in the nearby grasslands. But for the last two years, I haven’t seen their herds,” said Saloeun.

Phuong Lina, director of the Oddar Meanchey Provincial Department of Environment, acknowledged the continued occurrence of forest and wildlife crimes, despite regular joint patrols by park rangers, communities, and relevant authorities. During a recent forest patrol, authorities discovered a gaur with its legs entangled in vines, indicating an attempted escape from poachers.

While no poachers were found, the authorities did encounter a hunting dog barking to summon its owner. The dog likely belonged to a villager living on the border of the Sorng Rukahvorn Community Forest, a wildlife sanctuary. The gaur was rescued and released back into the forest.

However, there is currently no clear study on the population of gaurs, deer, and other rare species present in the Sorng Rukahvorn Community Forest. Despite the decrease in herds compared to previous years, Lina mentioned that this season, new herds with young offspring have been spotted, indicating some positive signs.

Lina explained that their team is implementing various measures and strategies to combat crime in the surrounding areas of the wildlife sanctuary. They have constructed three control towers and divided the forest boundaries into four sections: the core area, conservation zones, sustainable development areas, and community living zones.

While these efforts are underway, a detailed study on the demographic distribution and migration patterns of these rare herds within the sanctuary is still pending. Lina emphasised the importance of their ongoing work in safeguarding the forest and wildlife, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem.

As concerns grow over the decline in wildlife and the impact of illegal activities, it is crucial for all stakeholders, including communities, local authorities, and the public, to unite in the protection of natural resources. This includes raising awareness about the intricate relationship between forests, wildlife, and humans, and ceasing activities such as hunting, trapping, and consumption of wild meat.

By promoting responsible environmental practices and enforcing strict measures against wildlife crimes, it is possible to preserve the rich biodiversity of places like the Sorng Rukahvorn Community Forest for generations to come.