UPDATES TO ADD WWF-CAMBODIA COMMENTS TO ANADOLU AGENCY
By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – Just two months after applauding Cambodia’s government for approving a plan to reintroduce tigers, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Cambodia announced Tuesday the “dramatic decline” of a number of species in the country’s Eastern Plains Landscape.
In April, the Cambodian government signed off on the reintroduction plan, with a view to releasing the first tigers into the wild by 2022.
The big cats have been considered functionally extinct in Cambodia since the last one was photographed on a camera trap in the Mondolkiri Protected Forest area in the Eastern Plains in 2007.
In April, WWF warned that poor law enforcement, logging and the illegal wildlife trade would all hamper any potential success of the program.
It also said prey numbers would have to be stable in order to bring the first tigers in.
On Tuesday, WWF representatives met with government officials in Mondolkiri province, where they said the dramatic species decline included large mammals.
“Camera traps and other scientific research show a big loss of wild animals over the last few years,” WWF said in a statement. “The reasons for this alarming development are uncontrolled economic growth, poaching, extraction of goods, free road access and less control of illegal weapon use inside protected areas and a low number of rangers patrolling the protected areas.”
In addition, logging for agricultural purposes is also having an impact on species numbers.
Moul Phath, the Eastern Plains Landscape manager for WWF Cambodia, described “facing immense problems to combat biodiversity loss and enhance conservation of wildlife.”
The statement made no mention of the tiger reintroduction plans, or how the new species depletions would affect its execution, but it’s clear that advocates of the program are going to have an uphill battle on their hands.
Phath said in the statement that, on a monthly basis, thousands of snare traps are destroyed, poachers are arrested and hundreds of kilograms of wild meat are seized.
Un Chakrey, WWF-Cambodia communications manager, told Anadolu Agency in an email that while there are “major challenges” ahead, “if swift, effective action is taken, there is still a possibility to reintroduce tigers.”
He said, “a comprehensive, long-term strategy addressing poaching, illegal encroachment, road building, logging and land clearing is underway by WWF together with the Royal Government of Cambodia, local and international stakeholders.”
He stressed that involved parties are also “taking immediate steps to counter the emerging snaring crisis, such as increasing the number of anti-poaching staff and patrols, adapting current law enforcement strategies and cracking down on illegal wildlife trade.”
Keo Omaliss, Director of the Department Wildlife and Biodiversity in the Forestry Administration, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that he was not involved with the Eastern Plains Landscape and referred questions to the Ministry of Environment.
Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap told Anadolu Agency that he hadn’t seen the WWF statement.
“I don’t know, based on what specific research, WWF can officially declare the decline of certain species, but of course with the introduction of the tigers there is still a long way to go and of course strengthening the protection and conservation [measures] for the Eastern Plain Landscape is very critical for the reintroduction of the tigers,” he said.