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Cambodia’s last great forest in Oddar Meanchey under attack, more resources needed

Son Minea / Khmer Times Tue, June 8, 2021

Bun Saluth, a government-appointed protector of Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest in Oddar Meanchey province. Facebook

Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest in Oddar Meanchey province is under attack by poachers and tree-grabbers who have increased their criminal activity since February, according to Bun Saluth, a forest protector appointed by the government and former monk.

More than 20 animals were trapped and 20 to 30 trees were cut down in a single month and it has only gotten worse, he said.

Saluth told Khmer Times on Monday that from February to May, nine Banteng and 11 deer were trapped by poachers. He said that he found a number of traps in the protected forest but he has no way to know how many animals had been caught before he removed the traps.

He said he believes forest crimes are very high this year because there are not enough rangers to patrol after the Covid-19 outbreak.

“My team cannot be everywhere for all 24 hours. Now there is only me and another ranger to protect this area so criminals can freely cut down the trees and trap the animals. When I patrol at noon they cut and trap at night. When I patrol at night, they cut and trap at noon,” he said.

“How can I save the forest by myself if authorities do not help me?” he said.

A camera trap catches a sambar deer which has been listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List since 2008. MOE

He called on the provincial administration, district chiefs, village chiefs and police to care more begin to love the forest, saying the good work he does is not enough.

“If these crimes continue to progress at the current rate, in one year all the natural resources will be gone,” Saluth said. “I believe luxury wood and animals can live peacefully in the forest if people start to care.”

Ratanak Rukha Protected Area is a part of Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest. Crimes on the rise include trapping animals, cutting down trees and illegal fishing.

“Criminals only cut down luxury wood and I am so worried about that,” he said. Between April and May, when the country was supposed to be locked down, his patrol found 20 to 30 luxury trees that had been felled.

Saluth compared the Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest to a beautiful girl – everyone wants her. However, when the trees are cut and animals poached, it is as if the girl has been ravaged and became ugly so no one wants to marry her anymore.

The criminals have already destroyed the other forests in Cambodia, so now they are razing the few protected areas that still have resources left.

“It is not simple to protect the forest. If there is only one ranger and a monk to protect this area, it will quickly be destroyed. Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest is representative of the Asia-Pacific region, not only Cambodia,” he said, having won an award in the US as an environmentalist speaking out about his concerns for the animals and trees in this forest.

Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest covers a total area of 30,256 hectares in Samrong, Chongkal and Anlong Veng districts. It is classified as a forest protected area by sub-decree in 2001, after a petition was submitted by Saluth. He volunteered to protect the forest and was appointed participate in its conservation by the government.

“The Sang Rukhavoan Community Forest is the last remaining forest in Oddar Meanchey province,” Saluth said.

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SOURCE – Khmer Times, Cambodia Tue, June 8, 2021

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