The Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program patrols over 720,000 hectares (approximately 1.7 million acres) of forest in the Southern Cardamom Mountain Range. Wildlife Alliance, in partnership with the Royal Government of Cambodia, operates six ranger stations, and supports several others in the area. Their assiduous work has made the Southern Cardamoms the best protected rainforest in Southeast Asia and assured it remains home to one of Asia’s last seven remaining elephant corridors.
Each of the stations is manned by twelve forest rangers and two Wildlife Alliance advisors, comprising two patrol units. Forestry Administration officers oversee these patrol units, composed of military policemen, with on-site Wildlife Alliance technicians. Rangers, who are trained and equipped by Wildlife Alliance, conduct daily patrols by foot and motorbike through the forest, by boat along the many rivers running through the Southern Cardamoms, and aerial patrols by helicopter. They remove snares, confiscate illegal timber and chainsaws, dismantle illegal charcoal kilns, saw mills and poachers’ camps, halt illegal land encroachment, and rescue captured wildlife. Every campsite discovered in the protected area is searched; suspicious motorbikes and boats are regularly inspected. Rangers apprehend offenders, levy appropriate fines and document cases which are then surrendered to the provincial court. They release wildlife back into their habitat or send those animals needing care to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center.
These rangers are respected throughout Cambodia for the level of protection they provide the Southern Cardamom rainforest in their fight to defend the forest from illegal logging, poaching, and forest fires. Their work has successfully diminished the incidence of forest fires from more than 40 per day before the initiation of the program to less than one per day as little as a year later. Illegal land grabbing has been reduced substantially. 37 elephants and 12 tigers were reported killed in the 18 months preceding the implementation of the ranger program—only 4 elephants are known to have been killed since and there are no known reports of tiger killings. They have also cracked down on illegal forest operations such as the distillation of the endangered Mreah Prouv tree to create safrole oil, a precursor chemical used in the manufacture of ecstasy.
The collaboration between the Cambodian Forestry Administration, the Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia and Wildlife Alliance demonstrates our commitment to a direct approach and the need for continuous presence of law enforcement on the ground to safeguard threatened areas and implement conservation efforts. A hallmark of this ranger protection program is the ability to react immediately to any occurrence of illegal activity or crisis in the forest because of our presence on the ground.
In 2013 alone, the rangers confiscated 240 cubic meters of timber and apprehended 144 offenders.