Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team
In 2001, Cambodia’s forests and protected areas were under siege from wildlife poachers and traders who sought out endangered wildlife to sell as food, pets, tourist attractions, or as traditional Asian medicine. This rampant and devastating illegal wildlife trade was taking place throughout the country in markets and restaurants, on roads and across borders, and in the forest.
The Cambodian Forestry Administration requested help from Wildlife Alliance to help address this widespread wildlife trafficking. Thus, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) was established in cooperation with Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery’s Department of Forestry Administration and the Royal Gendarmerie Khmer. This unit is composed of Forestry Administration officials and Military Police who are mandated to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade throughout Cambodia. Wildlife Alliance provides capacity building with logistical and technical support, enabling the unit to track down poachers and traffickers, raid restaurants, markets, and stores, and investigate trafficking networks in cities and along borders. The WRRT is unique to Southeast Asia — a law enforcement squad devoted solely to combatting the illegal wildlife trade.
The 14-member team works in concert with a covert informant network and utilizes tips received via a nationwide public hotline number to conduct undercover operations, investigate wildlife trafficking networks, and intercept shipments of wildlife along borders. When the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team rescues live animals, those that are healthy and suited for the wild are immediately released in an appropriate habitat. Animals that cannot be released because of injuries or trauma are cared for by the Care for Rescued Wildlife team at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. These two programs work together to ensure the safety and care of Cambodia’s precious, endangered species.
In 2010, Wildlife Alliance helped the Cambodian Forestry Administration increase Cambodia’s linkages with the regional law enforcement network, the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, by supporting the implementation of the Cambodian-WEN Coordination Unit. With the activation of this coordination unit, the WRRT was recognized as the national level task force for ASEAN-WEN in Cambodia. This ever-increasing regional alliance serves to diminish in-country and cross-border trafficking.
As of 2013, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team has rescued more than 56,000 live animals and confiscated large quantities of animal parts and other contraband. Just ten years ago, Cambodia’s most prominent markets openly displayed rare animals for purchase and wildlife meats were commonplace on restaurant menus. The successful operations and ongoing presence of the WRRT have driven down this insidious trade which has devastating impacts on Cambodia’s wildlife, with wildlife dishes no longer available at 90% of restaurants in the nation’s capital.