Desertification and Drought: An Issue Even in the Tropical Zone

Saturday, June 17th is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, an occasion that has been observed since 1995 to raise awareness about desertification. One of the biggest and least understood environmental challenges facing the globe, desertification refers to the irreversible degradation of soil through human activities such as deforestation, unsustainable farming, mining and overgrazing. It occurs when trees and root systems that bind the soil are removed, exposing topsoil to erosion, and when unsustainable farming practices severely deplete nutrients. All that remains is an infertile mix of dust and sand that transforms fragile ecosystems into barren deserts.

Deforestation, which is a leading cause of desertification, is a serious prevailing issue in Cambodia. Satellite data from the Global Forest Watch has revealed that Cambodia has lost 1.75 million hectares (4.32 million acres) of forest since 2001 and the country has some of the fastest accelerating rates of tree loss in the world. This rampant deforestation not only leads to desertification, but also contributes to drought and flash floods. Without forest cover, less water is released into the atmosphere to form clouds and rain. Trees are also very important for regulating water flow into rivers and help maintain higher water levels in the rivers during the dry seasons. Conversely, during the rainy season, there are more floods because there are no trees to soak up the water and the degraded soil is less absorbent. In recent years, Cambodians have been experiencing much more extreme wet and dry seasons and recently experienced the worst drought in half a century.

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Since 2001, Wildlife Alliance has preserved nearly 2 million acres of forestland and planted over 733,000 trees. Through advocacy, reforestation and law-enforcement, we work tirelessly to preserve remaining forest cover and reconnect the canopy in the Southern Cardamom Mountains for the people and animals that depend on it. Our Community Agriculture Development Project incorporates sustainable farming practices into its land management strategy to empower local people to earn an income that doesn’t depend on stripping the forest of its resources. Through forest protection and sustainable land management, we are working to not only prevent desertification, but also mitigate food and water shortages related to climate change. You can help us preserve Cambodia’s remaining forests by donating to our forest protection program or our sustainable livelihoods program!

The Black Market for Wildlife is Moving to Social Media

As technology evolves and people seem to become more dependent on their phones and social media, the illegal market, including the wildlife trade, has been evolving with it. Facebook pages and groups specifically for the purpose of selling wildlife are now one of the main ways people trade wildlife and wildlife products. As such, our methods for policing the illegal wildlife trade must also adapt.

Recently, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) launched an investigation into one of these Facebook pages. After a long surveillance of a suspected trader, they inspected his home and found an abundance of wildlife, including two crested serpent eagles, three palm civets, two small Asian mongooses and an oriental pied hornbill. Thankfully, this operation was a success and the animals were all rescued and transported to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center for a medical evaluation. We anticipate that they will soon be ready for release into a protected habitat.

Unfortunately, not all of the WRRT’s investigations into these Facebook pages are as successful as this one. The team regularly monitors many of these online communities, but the people operating the pages are often extremely cautious and take many precautions to avoid being identified and arrested. In one case, WRRT members acted as buyers and tried to arrange a meeting with the seller, but he refused to meet in person or at his home or business. Instead, he sends a front man to deliver the wildlife at a designated location, always in a public space or street, and only after money has been transferred through the middle man. When interviewed by the WRRT, these men claim to have no knowledge of identity of the person is who gave them the wildlife, only that he approached them and paid them to deliver a package to a location.

Despite the difficulties in investigating these Facebook groups, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team members are not backing down and are instead ramping up their investigations. This modern way of illegally trading wildlife is becoming too prevalent to ignore. If you come across one of these Facebook pages selling wildlife in Cambodia, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team asks that you report it to them with any additional details you can provide. You can anonymously report these pages by calling the Wildlife Crime Hotline at 012 500 094 or by sending them a private message on their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/WCHCambodia). You can also support these efforts by donating to the WRRT by selecting ‘End Wildlife Trafficking’ on our donation page.

The WRRT is a Forestry Administration law enforcement unit led by the Forestry Administration, in cooperation with the Military Police, with technical and financial support from the Wildlife Alliance.

Preventing Poaching through Community Education

A recurring problem in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia is unsustainable levels of illegal hunting that contributes to biodiversity loss. Despite the dedicated anti-poaching teams we have in place, illegal hunting is appearing more regularly in the forest around Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. Illegal hunting is common throughout Cambodia despite the laws and regulations against it, but the increasing prevalence in the Phnom Tamao Forest is particularly worrisome because we release many rescued animals there. Local hardware stores tell us that their sales of short lengths of steel piping have been soaring, indicating that homemade firearms are on the rise. These homemade guns are used for one purpose: hunting.

Sometimes the temptation of fast cash is just too great to resist for many families and individuals, especially those living in poverty. To protect the animals in Phnom Tamao Forest, we have trained and employed local community rangers to patrol the forest around the rescue center. A reliable team of rangers is vital because they are the first to notice and respond to any illegal activity in the area. Many of the animals that we rescue and rehabilitate are released and given their second chance at life in the Phnom Tamao Forest and it is our mission to ensure that they can live out the rest of their lives free in the wild. Illegal hunting at unsustainable levels is a fast way to bring a species to extinction. Unfortunately, wildlife in Cambodia is threatened by both subsistence hunters, who target animals for their meat, and by poachers, who aim to sell animals in the illegal wildlife trade.

In response to the increase of hunting and poaching in the Phnom Tamao Forest, Wildlife Alliance’s Kouprey Express mobile environmental education team has conducted outreach and education efforts with the communities in the surrounding areas. The Kouprey Express worked with over 400 students from different villages near Phnom Tamao at Thmor Sor Secondary School. In these sessions, they talked about the advantages of wildlife and habitat conservation and the disadvantages of wildlife and habitat extinction.

These lessons are valuable to the survival of the wildlife and forests in the area because they aim to prevent and stop people from illegal hunting. Many times, people act without understanding the effect they are causing. These lessons are helping to bring awareness and purpose to the communities and showing them that their actions have consequences and they can make a difference. This program is crucial to the education and awareness of people of all ages in the local communities but to make this program more effective and reach more individuals we need support. Donate today to help the Kouprey Express continue to educate people and bring awareness to the importance of preserving wildlife and the environment!

Plan Your Ecofriendly Visit to the Cardamoms!

Tourism can have a profound impact on local communities. Irresponsible tourism can lead to social displacement, cultural degradation, economic dependence and environmental devastation.  However, with a little effort and preparation, travelers can actually lift local communities out of poverty while protecting the cultural and environmental heritage of an area.

Each destination faces unique challenges and threats, and doing some research in advance will help you make smarter choices.  The first step is picking a destination that promotes local culture, sustainable development, and responsible stewardship of natural sites. Choosing ecofriendly lodging that is locally owned and operated is another important and easy way to create a positive impact.

In Cambodia, Wildlife Alliance’s Community-Based Ecotourism (CBET) project helped the community of Chi Phat develop nature-based ecotourism in the Cardamom Mountain Range, one of Asia’s last rainforests.  Visitors lodge in local homestays while exploring the surrounding forest. The revenue from ecotourism has helped provide alternative, climate smart livelihoods to former wildlife poachers and slash-and-burn farmers. Not only is our CBET project helping stop the destruction of the forest, but it is also ensuring that future development will be sustainable for the community and the environment. Today, 80% of CBET members that hunted and logged in Chi Phat no longer do so.    

To support ecotourism and sustainable development in rural Cambodia, visit our donation page and choose Community-Based Ecotourism from the dropdown menu. To plan a trip to one of our project sites, click on the ‘Book a Tour’ tab on our website.