A day in life as a wildlife ranger in Cambodia
As part of the famed, expansive Eastern Plains Landscape in Cambodia, the project site of the Kadoorie Conservation China Department (KCC) is home to a vast array of endangered wildlife from Banteng, Green Peafowl, Black-shanked Douc, Silvered Langur to Sun Bear. But to our alarm, poaching, illegal logging and illegal mining – all frequent occurrences across the country – have not left this animal haven unscathed.
That’s why, we sponsored our partner Green Island Agricultural Development (Cambodia) Limited to establish the Banteng Forest Patrol Team in September 2019. The all-Cambodian squad, comprising a conservation officer and seven rangers, are trained and equipped to deter and prevent illegal wildlife activities. We named the team after Banteng because we want every member to feel proud of the most iconic animal of the Eastern Plains Landscape.
Today is World Ranger Day. It was initiated by International Ranger Federation to commemorate rangers killed or injured in the line of duty and to celebrate the work rangers do to protect the planet’s natural treasures.
On this special day, let’s reflect on the courage of and hardships endured by the Banteng Forest Patrol Team to undertake their role on the frontline.
A game of cat and mouse
The dearth of conservation measures and corruption in the government allowed illegal logging, poaching and illegal mining at our project site go unchecked. To make matters worse, the flatness and sheer size of our project site – almost as vast as Lantau Island in Hong Kong – makes it easy for intruders to sneak in from all directions. Our partner once created a dry moat around the project site as a line of defense, but it has done little to stop determined and resourceful individuals because it doesn’t take long to fill in a neglected corner of the moat to make a bridge and it will be business as usual.
During Cambodia’s dry season from October to April, rain clouds stay away. Sometimes Cambodians do not see a drop of rain at all for a month and the forest also becomes tinder dry and sweltering hot. Local poachers take advantage of this period to set aside trees ablaze to drive animals into their trap. But flames often go out of hand, turning into raging wildfires that are difficult to put out due to low humidity and water scarcity, and consumes large swathes of forests in its path.
Gaining around with anti-poaching operations
We rarely hear gunshots and see gin traps on our patrols. Most wildlife poachers prefer snaring wild animals with rope noose – possibly because it is cheaper to assemble – and a few hunters lay electrocute hunting wire – these are do not only electrocute the targeted wildlife, but also poses a significant hazard for our patrol team. Recently, some poachers learnt to use loudspeakers to playback birdsongs to draw their avian prey into traps.
During our anti-poaching operations from June 2019 and March 2020, the patrol team has already removed/seized 529 snares/traps, 50 fishing nets, 30 mist nets and 1150 meters of electrocute hunting wire.
An off-road motorbiking challenge
Although the dry season might create some favorable conditions to poachers, it is tough on the ranger team. Yet when the wet season makes its grand entrance, it presents yet another challenge. Daily downpours turn forest trails muddy and slippery, and low-lying areas into rivers and pools, giving the Banteng Forest Patrol Team and their motorcycles a hard time. A major part of our patrol expenses go into the daily maintenance of the motorcycles. But the Banteng Forest Patrol Team has gained so much experience tackling these muddy obstacles that if they were to enter off-road motorcycle races, they will surely come home with a trophy.
Every day before setting off into the forest, the Banteng Forest Patrol Team would pack lunch to eat under the shade. Their meals typically consist of deep-fried fish, pickled vegetables and rice that in their opinion are the best way to regain their strength and beat the heat. Sometimes they also gather wild vegetables along rivers and wetlands too, and eat them raw. After lunch, everyone enjoys a bit of downtime and wait for the hottest part of the day to pass. Some get some quality shuteye, others catch up with their social media feeds.
When we organize nighttime patrols to ambush illegal loggers, each staff would usually bring along a hammock fitted with a mosquito net. Having spent a night in their hanging beds, I discovered they are more comfortable than I had imagined, and I did not wake with a backache. If used in an open area, you can even fall asleep under the blanket of a thousand stars.
A multi-talented team
Our rangers have their fingers in many pies. Other than patrolling, they also need to conduct wildlife surveys, install infra-red camera traps and run outreach activities. When we painted a mural featuring a myriad of Cambodian wildlife at our partner’s headquarters, the ranger team unleashed the hidden artist inside them.
Working as a ranger comes with risks, especially when combatting the lucrative logging business. In 2018, three frontline workers were killed while investigating illegal logging operations in the Mondulkiri Province which is not far from our project site.
To ensure the safety of our personnel and deter illegal activities, our partner assigned an armed police officer to participate in our daily patrols. It is fortunate that we have not encountered aggressive offenders thus far. When we come across first offenders, we usually give verbal warnings and evict them.
Food for thought
Cambodia today resembles China of yesteryear. Rampant poaching and unstoppable forest destruction taking a toll on wildlife and wild spaces. Cambodia has one of the world's highest rates of deforestation. Forests are logged legally and illegally across the country every day. However, at the same time, this country is home to the largest, intact swathe of dry forest – also known as the Serengeti of Asia – and offers a lifeline for many endangered species.
If you have joined forest patrols like I did, you will be able to comprehend that behind every standing tree and wildlife, there are hardworking, courageous and committed rangers working in the frontline and risking their lives to protect them.
Stand with wildlife rangers and do not support illegal wildlife trade.
Chinese text by Yang Jianhuan
English translation by Joyee Chan