Inside the boundaries of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, the north could not be more different from the south. The most evident proof is in the ranger stations’ storage rooms.
During the first three months of this year, rangers seized more than 2,300 animal traps set by hunters, dozens of chainsaws, and a small cache of weapons, including AK-47 machine guns. They also recovered and released 14 live pangolins (Manis spp.), a type of threatened scaly anteater that is highly prized on the international wildlife market.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia.
Rows of blue plastic containers line the north station’s back wall. Each is filled with aromatic oil extracted from an increasingly rare luxury hardwood tree. The oil, a common ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics, is also used in the production of Ecstasy, an illicit narcotic.
Each jug is valued at US $800, and rangers have confiscated hundreds of them—together worth more than a quarter of a million dollars—in the past year from illegal traders.
In the south, the collection is quite different—a testament to the success seen there.
Dust covers the confiscated goods at the south's main station. Rangers seized most of them a few years back, when illegal hunting and logging were rampant in the area. At village markets, hunted wildlife and cut logs were openly for sale, especially in the largest district Thma Bang.
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Today, when not on patrol, the rangers stationed around Thma Bang can rest comfortably in chairs and hammocks. It is relatively quiet and peaceful, a far cry from the early days when violent protests typically greeted them.
This change pleases Ouk Kimsan, who became manager of the Forestry Administration’s conservation program in the Central Cardamoms in 2005. He says Thma Bang used to be “a very hard place.”
When the program first began in 2001, local communities had misunderstood the rangers’ intentions, and their relationship soured. But it has since improved dramatically, he says, as the rangers have placed a priority on engaging the community and promoting education about conservation.
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“Our work is going very well, and there are no more demonstrations,” says Kimsan. “Now they understand that our program is a good one, and we are here to help the local people.”
In fact, the situation has improved so much that many rangers are being transferred to the more crime-ridden north.