Justice for tigers and elephants: traffickers get jail Wildlife Alliance
Impact update:January-September 2022
Wildlife Alliance has been extremely busy during the first three quarters of 2022. With COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team and Kouprey Express have been able to resume their full schedules with nationwide operations to combat the illegal wildlife trade and outreach to educate Cambodians about their natural heritage. In the Cardamoms, our rangers have been busier than ever removing record numbers of snares from the forest and cracking down on the illegal logging and land encroachment driving deforestation of this critical habitat. And at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre we had the fight of our lives to stop the forest surrounding the Centre – where we have released thousands of rehabilitated animals – from being razed to build a new satellite city. To celebrate all that we’ve accomplished, we just held a big bash for the Wildlife Alliance 22nd Anniversary in Cambodia.
We hope you enjoy this update to share some program highlights and results from the first 9 months of the year. None of this would have been possible without the support of loyal friends like you. Thank you all so much!
The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT)
Conducted 577 operations
Rescued 1,318 live animals
Released 519 rescued animals
Brought 705 animals to Phnom Tamao for care
Seized 1,976 wildlife parts and 800+ lbs. of wild meat
Seized 123 ivory specimens and a 25 lbs. ivory tusk
Apprehended 99 offenders
Levied $26,751 in wildlife crime fines
With domestic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 no longer limiting WRRT operations, in the first 9 months of 2022 we already arrested more offenders and seized more wildlife parts than during all of last year. Perhaps the most consequential case of this year occurred as a result of tip-offs from our covert informants, an in-depth investigation by our Team and great cooperation with other Cambodian law enforcement authorities.
Following a 2-year investigation into a major wildlife trader, in mid-March 2022 the WRRT raided his Phnom Penh home. The operation yielded huge quantities of illegal products, including: 100+ lbs. of ivory and 25 lbs. of Elephant molars, 90 lbs. of Boar tusks, teeth and fur, 78 pieces of Deer horn, and 14 Eastern Porcupine stomachs. In addition, large quantities of parts from non-natives and species that are extinct in Cambodia were seized : 70 pieces of Tiger and Lion skin, 72 Tiger whiskers, 4 Tiger skin purses and 1 mounted Lion head. Due to the high volume and value of wildlife seized, and the obviously foreign origins of some of it, Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) joined the case. While many cases unfortunately result simply in fines due to low penalties under Forestry Law, the ACU can press charges based on economic crimes so this offender was sent to pre-trial detention and his assets were frozen by the ACU’s committee on money laundering. Through months of ongoing collaboration between our Team and ACU officers, others in his wildlife trafficking network were identified by tracing his financial transactions.
As a result of this work, in July the Phnom Penh Court charged three offenders under Articles 96 and 98 of the Forestry Law, and Articles 3, 29 and 30 of the Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. The original trafficker who was arrested by our Team was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 40,000,000 Riel (USD $10,000). Two other offenders linked to his case through our investigations were sentenced in abstentia to 3 years’ imprisonment and fines of 50,000,000 Riel each, and the Court has issued warrants for their arrest. In addition, the Court confiscated 1 car, 1 telephone, 4 plots of land and/or houses and money from 6 different bank accounts.
This case represents what we believe are the most serious sentences ever issued for wildlife crimes in Cambodia. The fact that these wildlife traffickers were put in pre-trial detention, their assets were frozen, and they were prosecuted was covered by a variety of Khmer-language and English media outlets, raising public awareness that participating in the illegal wildlife industry can indeed lead to serious consequences. We hope the outcomes in this case will be a strong deterrent for people participating in the illegal wildlife trade, and that it is a sign that offenders caught in future will also be prosecuted to the full extent possible under Cambodian law.
Support from donors like you is vital to paying informant fees and salary supplements for the Government officers on our Team, which makes possible our wildlife law enforcement operations and this kind of highly effective cross-departmental collaboration. Thank you so much for helping us to combat the illegal wildlife trade!
Care for Rescued Wildlife at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Provided daily care for ±1,430 animals
Received 790 newly rescued animals
Released 509 rehabilitated animals
Captive-bred 48 baby animals, most IUCN Red-listed threatened species
Prevented the forest surrounding Phnom Tamao from being razed!
2022 has been a monumental year for our Care for Rescued Wildlife Program at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre and unwavering encouragement from supporters like you was instrumental to our work. From our successful campaign to save Phnom Tamao forest from being razed to build a satellite city (details in the previous report if you missed that story) to managing care for hundreds of newly rescued animals arriving each month, to fully re-opening our ‘Behind The Scenes’ Tours to educate visitors about humane captive care for rescued wildlife, our team has been busier than ever this year.
As we reflect on these accomplishments, we are also looking towards improvements we can make to address challenges identified and ensure standards of care remain high. You may remember the douc langurs rescued from the illegal pet trade that we have been successfully hand-raising since 2020. Black-shanked and red-shanked douc langurs are both Critically Endangered, and all langur species are difficult to raise in captivity due to their delicate digestive systems and primarily leaf-eating diets. Doucs are particularly sensitive, rescued doucs arrive sickly and weak, and in the past they had always died despite our best efforts. We thought we had cracked the code on raising doucs by having our elephant keepers care for them far away from the Nursery, where staff must care for all species including many juvenile macaques that can carry diseases like Herpes that are harmless to their species but deadly for langurs. Sadly, three of our hand-raised doucs passed away this year and more silvered langurs have died recently than in past years.
To address this challenge, we plan to build a dedicated langur care facility, strengthen veterinary capacity at Phnom Tamao, and implement food quality testing for sensitive species to ensure the supposedly ‘organic’ vegetables we are specially purchasing for them are indeed chemical-free. We have secured funding to hire an international veterinary expert to help properly diagnose and treat tricky cases and to build the capacity of our dedicated local staff. Our year-end fundraising goal is to raise $10,000 to purchase medical equipment to upgrade our laboratory so we are better equipped to sterilize tools and feeding items, analyze blood samples ourselves rather than relying on external labs for testing, and assess chemical levels in food to improve animals’ diets.
Cardamom Forest Protection Program
Conducted 4,842 patrols
Removed 33,373 wildlife snares and 7,328 meters of net traps
Saved 260 live animals from poachers
Removed 582 illegal logging/ hunting camps
Stopped 152 cases of land encroachment
Confiscated 1,121 chainsaws,132 trailers for hauling timber and 19 excavators/bulldozers/tractors
Submitted 124 court cases against offenders
From January-September, Wildlife Alliance/Cambodian Ministry of Environment rangers from our Cardamom Forest Protection Program (CFPP) already removed more wildlife snares than during all of last year – indicating that Southeast Asia’s snaring crisis is worsening. In addition to hunters using snares, the rangers occasionally encounter people hunting wildlife with weapons inside protected areas. In early September, the Stung Proat and Sre Ambel patrol units caught and detained two hunters in the middle of the night. The pair had been hunting wildlife and illegally using weapons inside the Southern Cardamom National Park, and were caught red-handed with several dead animals, including 1 pregnant sambar deer (IUCN Red-Listed Vulnerable species), 1 civet and 3 kilos of bush meat. In addition, they had 3 pistols and 2 rifles with scopes and targeting lasers, and were driving a pick-up truck with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces license plates. During the investigation, it became apparent that the men were Phnom Penh police officers and one of them held the rank of 1st Lieutenant! Our CFPP team filed a case with the Koh Kong Courts requesting maximum legal penalties be applied to this pair of State officers who were using State resources to destroy protected, state-owned natural resources. Provisional detention warrants were issued for both of the men, and they were handed over to Kong Kong Prison officers. We hope this case serves as a deterrent for other officials who may think they are above the law!
19,252 students (10,077 female) reached
69 teachers (28 female) trained
2,145 community members (1,133 female) engaged through Door-to-Door outreach
10 field trips to Phnom Tamao for 1,372 participants (students, teachers, and community members)
The Kouprey Express (KE) has enjoyed the first year post-COVID that public schools have been fully open, which meant the team was able to deliver its full suite of educational offerings for students and teachers. The KE team delivered its signature programs in 9 provinces (Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Kompong Speu, Takeo, Battambang and Kep) as well as in Phnom Penh. Almost 20,000 students from 40 national schools and two NGOs participated in interactive classroom lessons and the team trained and equipped 69 teachers to deliver KE’s environmental education curriculum. The KE’s expertise was also sought out by an international company who brought their staff to learn about Cambodia’s wildlife and, most importantly, how to protect it. Bringing people on field trips to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre to meet rescued animals face-to-face and learn about their stories is one of the most impactful methods KE uses, and during this period the team organized 10 trips and treated 1,372 students, teachers and adults to this extraordinary experience.
The KE’s activities always include educational materials that promote wildlife protection so that participants can take these messages home with them to share with their families. The KE distributed over 35,155 wildlife notebooks and pens, 20,771 stickers and 19,905 posters with the Wildlife Crime Hotline number so people know where and how to report any animals being kept or sold illegally that they may encounter, as well as 19,869 wildlife handouts to community members.
In addition, the KE facilitated a timely, exciting, and very useful training for 18 Wildlife Alliance staff on zoonotic diseases and community participatory assessments taught by the Royal University of Agriculture Department of Veterinary Sciences as part of a One Health approach. This was a fantastic opportunity to not only further our knowledge and experience but bolster educational outreach and community engagement on this vital subject across all Wildlife Alliance programs.
Wildlife Release Station (WRS) & Angkor Wildlife Release Project
47 animals arrived at WRS
17 released from WRS
Tracking study of Critically Endangered Sunda pangolins released from WRS continues
Pileated gibbon pairs released in Angkor and their wild-born offspring are well
New species of beautiful large birds released in Angkor include: 8 green peafowl, 6 great hornbills and 4 wreathed hornbills
Keepers at our Wildlife Release Station (WRS) in Koh Kong received 47 animals in the first 9 months of 2022, including a flock of blossom-headed parakeets transferred from PTWRC for pre-release acclimatization; other birds of various species, 4 common palm civets, 7 elongated tortoises, a leopard cat and a water dragon confiscated from poachers in the Cardamoms by our rangers; and 1 Oriental pied hornbill, 4 green peafowl, and 3 Sunda pangolins rescued by the WRRT. During this period, 1 pangolin escaped from her enclosure and we released another 17 animals, mostly birds but also the elongated tortoises, which are a Critically Endangered species, civets and a leopard cat that we fitted with a radio collar and tracked for a few weeks before losing the signal due to heavy rains.
Pangolins are notoriously difficult to care for in captivity, especially those rescued from the illegal wildlife trade after being kept for an unknown period under likely bad conditions, and little is known about the success and survival rates of released pangolins. To help fill these knowledge gaps we have continued tracking pangolins that are hard- and soft-released from WRS to inform best care and release practices for this elusive and increasingly rare Critically Endangered species. To complete the study and publish results, we need data on a minimum of 4 pangolins released using each method, but we never know when pangolins will be rescued and in what condition they will be when they arrive!
Sun bear cub Kolab walks in the forest every day with our Research Biologist, Niki, or one of the WRS keepers – she is a skilled tree climber, is learning to forage for forest foods, and hopefully one day will be suitable for release. Sadly, our wonderful old sun bear Sophea passed away of old age this year, but our other resident bear Micah is doing well.
Release work at Angkor is also progressing. In late December 2021, we released a fourth pair of pileated gibbons. This pair is unique, because while male Bakheng was captive-born at PTWRC like most of our other released gibbons, the female, Ping-peeung, is the first gibbon who was wild-born at Angkor to released parents and, having reached adulthood, she needed her own territory and mate. At first Bakheng was uncertain about life outside the enclosure butPing-Peeung is confident in the wild and she has encouraged him. He has gained strength and confidence and can now move through the treetops with ease and the pair duet together more than any of our other released gibbons. The first gibbon pair,Ping-peeung’s parents, and their younger offspring are well, although brotherChung-ruth will soon reach adulthood and may face similar tensions with his parents as Ping-peeung did when she came of age. Tevy, the female of the second pair released and her three offspring are well, but stay close to home following the death of her partner last year. We are planning to translocate Chung-ruth to Tevy’s territory when the time is right to introduce him as a mate either for her or her eldest daughter. The third gibbon pair’s baby,Mey-ambaugh, has grown into a 1-year old and is starting to spend short periods on her own outside the security of her mother’s arms.
Ultimately, we aim to reintroduce a cross-section of wildlife to Angkor. Late last year, we soft-released 2 more smooth-coated otters, 4 green peafowl, 4 Oriental Pied hornbills, 4 wreathed and 6 great hornbills that had been acclimatizing for a number of months, and we hard-released 4 more green peafowl near Lake Santamea. The otters have joined up with the remaining female from the group previously released and come most days to eat the fish we continue to provide. Only one peafowl still returns for supplemental food but others can be heard calling, and the hornbills are seen flying around the temples and even venture into the outskirts of Siem Reap City on occasion.
Rehabilitating and releasing wildlife to help restore Cambodia’s natural heritage is a long-term investment. Without generous support from people like you, it would not be possible for us to dedicate the resources needed to ensure proper daily care during acclimatization, provide supplemental food for years if needed, or conduct long-term tracking and monitoring studies so we can share lessons learned with the conservation community. These are the building blocks of success towards reintroduced wildlife populations that will one day be self-sustaining, and we thank you so much for your support of this investment.
These incredible results are all possible because of friends like you who donate so generously and offer us the moral support to sustain our efforts even when things look dire. Thank you so much for caring about wildlife and forest as much as we do and believing in our programs. We wish you all the best for the rest of 2022.
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