A Social Movement to #SavePhnomTamao
My boss, Nick Marx who is Director of Wildlife Rescue and Care Programs, and Wildlife Alliance Founder & CEO, Suwanna Gauntlett, launched an all-out campaign to Save Phnom Tamao, appealing to Prime Minister H.E. Samdech Hun Sen to intervene. Wildlife Alliance produced dozens of videos and social media posts, such as this ‘Forest at Phnom Tamao could be cleared’ video, coordinated with allies and liaised with reporters to help raise public awareness about the threat to the forest. I have never been prouder of the people with whom I work, nor more fearful that such an iconic part of Cambodia’s natural heritage would be destroyed.
European Space Agency Sentinel Satellite images of the deforested area (NE quadrant), remaining Phnom Tamao Forest and Wildlife Rescue Centre (SW corner)
Despite knowing for months that Phnom Tamao was under threat, it was still a horrible blow to learn that bulldozers and excavators had suddenly appeared during the last weekend of July and the forest was rapidly being razed. Our staff took dramatic drone footage of the clearing, which was widely shared on social media and in the press to raise alarm bells. Images taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel Satellite showed 130 hectares of forest destroyed within 5 days and local villagers reported they saw our sambar deer fleeing the bulldozers, bounding into adjacent plantations – and they heard gunshots fired that night.
When the news broke, I was on holiday in Vermont visiting family. In a state of shock akin to the moments after learning a loved one has died, I called Nick, who has poured so much heart, soul and sweat into Phnom Tamao. I spent many hours grieving, weeping tears, both heartbroken and bitter, for the thousands of animals Wildlife Alliance has rescued, loved and released into that forest. Each morning I would learn what had happened at Phnom Tamao while I was sleeping, and message colleagues and friends as we mobilized our social networks to beg the Prime Minister to halt the destruction and protect the remaining forest.
The public outcry was almost as swift as the clearing. Within days, tens of thousands of people posted comments on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page, and outraged Cambodians who are entirely unaffiliated with Wildlife Alliance organized a boycott of the companies behind the development. That weekend I went camping in a pristine state park in my homeland, going offline to digitally detox from the events unfolding on state forestland in my adopted country. I expected even worse news upon my return and reconnected to the internet with dread. Amazingly, the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’ never ceases to surprise me, even after a decade of living here.