A Cambodian farmer can reap 250 times his monthly salary on the sale of a single dead tiger. Ivory from an elephant's tusks can fetch upward of $15,000 on the black market. With money like this to be made, it's no wonder the populations of some dangerously rare plant and animal species are dwindling.
Cambodia, a country rich in natural resources, is home to some of the world's most endangered species. It is also one of Southeast Asia's poorest nations, where enticing economic incentives and weak law enforcement provide fuel to the booming illegal wildlife trade.
THREATS TO SPECIES: Learn more about the illegal wildlife trade.
In the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, and other Asian towns and cities, there is a thriving market for animal skins, body parts, and the products made from them. Ancient beliefs foster ideas that humans can achieve the potency of an animal by consuming its body parts. In some countries, the flesh of hunted wild animals, or bushmeat, is considered a gourmet delicacy.
One such endangered animal in Cambodia is called the Muntjac, known as “barking deer,” and is highly sought after in the luxury food trade. Sometimes poached animals are reared as pets or their body parts are used for traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs. The demand for these products extends throughout the world, with international trade estimated at $6 billion a year.
The lush and dense forests of Cambodia's Cardamom Mountain range, encompassing nearly 2.5 million acres of land, has become an attractive source for the illegal wildlife industry. Considered to be the largest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest is full of unique plant and animal species, many of which are at great risk of extinction, such as the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), the Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), and the Pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus). All of these animals are highly prized by poachers.
In the Cardamoms: Life Downstream
While the sheer size of the Cardamom range makes it difficult to protect against unregulated hunting, the Cambodian government lacks the manpower and will to enforce the rules. Bribery of officials is rampant, and corruption chokes the legal and justice systems. Judges know little about wildlife laws, and in most instances, cases are tossed out and poachers escape prosecution.
CI is working to combat these problems on multiple fronts. CI initiated the first assessment of the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia to determine how the industry and market function and who the main players are. About 50 forest rangers and military police officers patrol on the ground – with CI support – to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the Cardamom Mountains.
ARTICLE: Risks to Rangers
In cooperation with local communities, CI’s Cambodia office is now working to develop economic alternatives to hunting and to spread awareness more broadly about the devastating impact of illegal trafficking on the country’s rich, but threatened wildlife.
One successful recent CI initiative involves the dragonfish, a deep-sea predator on the endangered list, which is commonly harvested in Cambodia because of its high market value. Community members agreed to stop harvesting dragonfish in exchange for payments and agricultural assistance. CI is also exploring ways of strengthening law enforcement at the field level, as well as at the judiciary level, to increase prosecutions and convictions for wildlife crimes.
CI hopes that tougher laws and better enforcement in Cambodia will deter professional poachers from trafficking in wildlife. By providing other economic incentives, CI is helping local communities become less dependent on profits gained from these illegal activities and build a safer, more conservation-friendly livelihood.