Som Sitha, the Koh Kong and Mekong Conservation Project manager at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Cambodia), has been selected as one of the six Mekong Conservation Heroes for 2020-2021 by the Mekong Conservation Heroes programme (MCH) – a part of the Wonders of the Mekong project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The MCH was developed to shine a spotlight on outstanding individuals doing inspiring conservation work in the Lower Mekong Basin by working to research, protect, or raise public awareness about the Mekong River’s unique ecosystem, biodiversity, habitats, and cultural heritage.
Sitha is one of five outstanding individuals nominated for the Mekong River Conservation Award for 2020-21.
He told The Post on December 23 that the conservation work and experience he has accrued over the past 13 years is what makes him effective in carrying out conservation work along the Mekong River and in assisting the people in the communities there.
One campaign in particular that he takes special pride in involved the efforts to protect Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, an endangered species inhabiting the Mekong River and the largest freshwater turtle in the world.
He and his team rediscovered the presence of the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle in the Mekong after a number of years had passed without one being spotted in the river, leading some to fear that it was extinct.
His team’s discovery of a living population of Cantor’s turtles inspired hope in other conservationists and he has worked hard on behalf of the turtles ever since by engaging with the community who now help him protect more than 50 of the turtle’s nests each year.
“I am happy that the Wonders of the Mekong project have chosen me as an outstanding person. They see the work that I strive to carry out and how dedicated I have been to the conservation of fishery resources, which is important to me because those resources also help the community.
“This recognition of all the progress we have made over the years motivates me to stay committed and keep moving forward with these efforts,” he said.
He said that as a next step he would continue the work he had underway already, but he hopes to get funding from donor partners to widely expand the reach of his efforts.
In particular, he wants to focus on strengthening the community’s ability to protect endangered species by patrolling the territory around their homes and villages to stop wildlife trafficking operations or report their presence to authorities.
“I definitely want to focus on community education and work related to wildlife trafficking,” he said.
The other five chosen as outstanding conservationists by the Wonders of the Mekong project are as follows:
- Buth Chanmeta, Awareness and Outreach Senior Officer at WWF–Cambodia.
- Hor Samath, Deputy Chief of the Sdey Kroam Rohal Suong Community Fishery Committee, Ek Phnom, Battambang province.
- Hoy Sreynov, Fisheries Officer at the Department of Aquaculture Development, and Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries.
- Lor Kimsan, Research Project Officer at WWF-Cambodia.
- Luy Rasmey, Executive Director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association.