WILDLIFE conservation organisations have said that without immediate action, Cambodia will face the imminent loss of biodiversity as a result of the ongoing animal trapping crisis, as the Ministry of Environment and development partners jointly launched their zero-snaring campaign in Preah Vihear province.

The province is the third to inaugurate the campaign, named “Zero-snaring in Cambodia’s Protected Areas”, after Phnom Penh and Stung Treng province, the latter being where it was first launched on April 6.

The campaign was announced on March 3 by the ministry as an initiative to mitigate the continued dangers to animals caused by the ongoing hunting and snaring crisis, which itself has been spurred by the illegal trafficking of wildlife.

Organisations including the Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia (WCS Cambodia), USAID Greening Prey Lang Project and Conservation International (CI) jointly launched the campaign with the ministry and Preah Vihear provincial environment department, saying that without immediate action, Cambodia will face the imminent loss of invaluable wildlife resources as a result of the snare crisis.

The zero-snaring campaign in Preah Vihear calls for immediate action to increase law enforcement patrols and to review regulations preventing illegal wildlife hunting. It will last for six months and be rolled out in six provinces east of the Mekong River.

Through the campaign, the ministry and partner organisations will call for more active participation from Cambodians across the country as well as local communities to stop setting animal snares in protected areas.

Nim Srey Oun, 34, a resident of Tmatboey community in Prear Vihear’s Choam Ksan district, said the environment ministry and partner organisations have been conducting awareness campaigns in the province to stop the trapping of wildlife, as well as engaging in other businesses which harm animals, such as animal husbandry and non-timber forest product collection. She said the campaign had proven effective.

“I advised my husband to stop hunting and snaring wildlife and start up new businesses such as raising fish, pigs, cows and chickens instead,” she said.

Srey Oun noted that there are rare species of animals such as the giant trout and white-winged duck (Asarcornis scutulata) in the Tmatboey natural conservation area, and that support from the environment ministry and other wildlife conservation organisations could enable their conservation.

The ministry said that in 2021, along with partner organisations, it removed more than 60,000 snares from 72 protected areas and other biodiversity corridors in Cambodia.

It noted that on average, more than 40,000 snares are removed from these protected areas each year.

Ken Serey Rotha, WCS country director, said: “The prevention of snaring activities in Cambodia will not be successful without the participation of the public. This campaign is an effective way for all of us to spread the urgent message to stop the use of wildlife products.

“WCS urges all involved in the wildlife trade to comply with this call – both those who create demand for wildlife products and those who trade in bush meat. Wildlife is an important part of the ecosystem, and immediate participation by these stakeholders will ensure the future survival of animals,” he said.

Jackson Frechette, CI programme director for the Greater Mekong Region, said: “The key to the success of this campaign is to recognise that the purchase and consumption of bush meat is a leading cause of the wildlife trade, leading to deforestation and causing various diseases.”

Environment ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra said during the inauguration of the campaign in Preah Vihear province that the participation of communities and stakeholders plays an important role in ensuring the safety of wildlife in their natural forest habitats.

“We urge everyone to say ‘no’ to consuming wildlife products and, instead, participate in the conservation of Cambodia’s natural resources to ensure their sustainability,” he said.

Pheaktra said that with a total of nearly 5,000 animal species, Cambodia is a country rich in biodiversity, noting that this number was likely to increase after further discovery and study of new species.

He added that the zero-snaring campaign hopes to change the attitude and mindset of those who engage in snaring and wildlife hunting, and encourage them to turn to new occupations instead.

Pheaktra said the campaign was also targeted at high meat consumers to encourage them to reduce their demand for animal meat for the benefit of the country’s ecosystem.

He said that with the launch of the campaign, there will be strict enforcement of the law by authorities to prevent and crack down on natural resource and wildlife crimes committed by poachers and tourists alike.

“Snares are a covert killer of Cambodian wildlife and threaten the safety of protected areas and local and eco-tourism communities that enter the forest for non-timber forest products,” he said.

According to Pheaktra, in 2021, the emergency wildlife rescue team, a joint unit, conducted 625 operations to crack down on wildlife trafficking. They reportedly rescued 1,271 wild animals and confiscated 3,609 dead wild animals and 354kg of bush meat, and released 864 animals back into the wild.