Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tigers roam the jungle, but likely to end up on a wall

Tigers roam the jungle, but likely to end up on a wall

Tigers roam the jungle, but likely to end up on a wall

W hen King Norodom Sihanouk opened the Kirirom National Park in southern Cambodia

earlier this year, a corporate sponsor handed out T-shirts emblazoned with a

padding tiger.

Visitors are as likely to run into an errant Khmer Rouge

guerrilla as a big striped cat in the pine-clad hills of the 35,000-hectare

park, but a few tigers still roam the area as three helpless soldiers found out

in 1993.

They tried to kill a solitary tiger, possibly thinking of the

money to be made from selling its skin, bones and teeth to wildlife traders in

Phnom Penh, but ended up nursing horrific maul injuries and cursing the one that

got away.

"They have tigers in the park... I spoke to one of the guards

who had seen the paw marks," said Barry Rogers of Britain's Enterprise Oil,

which paid for a park visitor's center.

But conservationists say the

tigers and panthers of Cambodia and Laos are threatened by hunters, traders and

land mines.

"Tigers are still widespread and probably number around three

hundred to five hundred," said the World Conservation Union's local

representative David Ashwell.

He said that a hunter interviewed last year

in northeast Cambodia "had personally shot more than 30 tigers."

The

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently announced a fund-raising campaign to save

Indochina's tigers, saying they were disappearing at a rate of one a

day.

Tiger parts are prized in Asia for their purported magical and

protective powers.

Environment Minister Mok Mareth said Cambodia expected

to receive funds from the WWF next year and noted that hunting of rare species

was banned by law.

But a World Conservation Union report earlier this

year said the forestry department's Wildlife Protection Office (WPO) "is unable

to enforce the 1988 ban and hunting of all species is prevalent throughout the

country."

It also noted the lack of an effective wildlife management

policy, with the usual problem of no funds and no clear cut division of

responsibilities between the Environment Ministry and the WPO, which is part of

the Agriculture Ministry.

Meanwhile, tiger parts are easy to come by in

Phnom Penh and a shopkeeper offered the Post two treated pelts for $500 and $600

each and said tiger skulls and bones sold for $100 a kilogram.

"If you

want one or two skins you can have them immediately, but if you want four or

five you'll have to wait," he said, while claiming that the two tigers on offer

had been killed by mines in an area just south of Kirirom.

Leopard skins

were only $150 and he asked $120 for a blackened foot-long elephant penis, which

Cambodians soak in rice wine and use for traditional medicine.

"People

here don't have many tiger skins on sale and normally it isn't very open because

every now and then people from the forestry department come and visit - we give

them money and they go away," claimed the trader.

"I know my business is

illegal... my business will no longer exist if the government puts strict

regulations to stop this kind of business in Cambodia."

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