Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - WildAid takes direct action in environment battle

WildAid takes direct action in environment battle

WildAid takes direct action in environment battle

WILDAID, a new player in the battle to save Cambodia's beleaguered wildlife, entered

the fray in a spectacular manner last month by rescuing seven tigers and two sun

bears from the clutches of animal traffickers.

Suwanna Gauntlett, President of WildAid, said the organization's mandate is to protect

endangered wildlife. "We practice direct intervention. If we have to rescue

wild animals, we do."

But the organization's primary aim is to help developing countries implement protected

areas and enforce their own wildlife laws.

"[These countries] usually have some laws. If they are not good laws at least

they can be used, but [the countries] do not have the money or the manpower to enforce

them," said Gauntlett.

The San Francisco-based organization has ongoing wildlife management and anti-poaching

operations in Siberia, Thailand and Burma. WildAid agents work internationally to

expose illegal wildlife trade networks, and collect evidence which they provide local

authorities and Interpol.

Gauntlett says the environmental threats facing Cambodia are particularly urgent.

"There is a lot of denial about the large-mammal trade and we would like to

help the Government intervene in that arena because otherwise there will soon be

no tigers left," she said.

WildAid is assisting the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) in establishing national

parks where there are viable tiger populations.

If a survey this dry season of tigers at Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary - northeast

of Siem Reap - is successful, WildAid will help MoE set up the park there from scratch.

"We will hire the rangers, get them salaries, teach them how to do systematic

patrols, basically help [MoE] manage this whole park," said Gauntlett.

Cambodia has 23 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and protected scenic areas

designated on paper, but only four are staffed and managed.

WildAid will also help train the Ministry of Agriculture's Task Force, a unit charged

with cracking down on forest crimes.

WildAid's training program will be conducted in conjunction with the Department of

Forestry and Wildlife's Forest Crime Monitoring Unit. "We help them do some

confiscation operations in the provinces and we will help the Task Force collaborate

with the provincial forestry officers and set up a network of informants," said

Gauntlett.

WildAid will also launch a nationwide nature conservation educational campaign. Gauntlett

has produced a three-part Khmer-language film series for television that has been

distributed to Apsara, Channel Nine, and TVK.

"It is a story of a village gone from hunter-gatherer to farmers. It shows what

are the bad consequences of over-hunting and over-logging and how the villagers came

to a solution with the help of the monks.

"It will be an ongoing story with the same actors. [In the next three part series]

we will get into the wildlife trade and how they protect the animals. They go from

fierce hunters to protectors of nature."

Gauntlett said it is crucial for high Government leaders to support the Task Force's

efforts to stop wildlife trafficking, because there are some powerful people involved

in the trade.

Though CPP National Assembly Member Nhim Vanda's truck, driver and bodyguard were

involved in transporting four of the tigers rescued by WildAid's sting operation

last month, Forestry Department officials said Vanda was not involved in the case,

and his employees were not arrested.

The case against two suspects arrested for trafficking the tigers has been sent to

Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The suspects, who are free while awaiting their court

appearance, told the Post they bought the tigers from Thai traffickers as part of

a deal to get a lion for Vanda's private zoo.

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