Conservationists Seeking To Convert Poachers

First Recruit is Hunter Who Killed Tiger With Mine

A hunter who blew up a tiger with a land mine in Mondulkiri re­cently may be a key figure in future conservation efforts in Cam­bodia.

Wildlife officials and a tiger conservation group have recruited the hunter, Lain Sothy, to work as a ranger, patrolling the forests for poachers and educating his neighbors on the need to preserve wildlife.

He is part of a new plan to use hunters’ knowledge of Cambo­dia’s forests and animals to protect species under threat from poaching, logging and human settlement.

Lain Sothy also represents one of the few cases of someone be­ing held accountable for poaching wildlife, said Hunter Weiler of Cat Action Treasury, which is working with the Wildlife Protect­ion Office to turn hunters into con­servationists.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time there’s been enforcement of a tiger death in Cambo­dia,” he said  “He’s basically on probation. This is a good compromise. It’s not brushing it off.”

News of the tiger killing surfaced last month, two weeks after two conservation groups—the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature

—completed wildlife surveys in the area.

The surveys had produced the first pictures of tigers in Cambo­dia. On two occasions, tigers walked through infrared camera traps, which captured their im­ages on film.

One of those tigers may have been the animal which Lain Sothy blew up.

After WCS and WWF left Mondulkiri, provincial wildlife official Pen Pein, who had been working with the two groups, received a report of a tiger being killed.

He went to Lain Sothy’s house June 15 with the district police and spoke with the 33-year-old farmer, who said he and a friend used a land mine with a dead Macaque monkey for bait to kill a tiger on May 18.

After talking with Pen Pein and the police chief, Lain Sothy acknowledged it was unlawful for him to kill the tiger. According to a contract signed June 15, he has agreed to stop hunting wildlife, to educate others not to hunt and to report those he sees hunting to local wildlife authorities.

“If I do not respect the agreement or still continue to kill or hunt wildlife, the forestry agency can punish me by the law,” Lain Sothy admitted in a contract he signed with his thumbprint.

In exchange for Lain Sothy’s cooperation, he will be paid $50 a month, plus $2 for every day he spends in the field, looking for hunters or educating villagers.

“What’s the alternative? Put this guy in handcuffs and throw him in jail? A lot of these guys don’t even know the law,” Weiler said. “We think punishment should be aimed at the middlemen, the merchants and the border crossings.”

Lain Sothy is the first hunter recruited by CAT in Mondulkiri to serve as a ranger. Cambodian wildlife officials and CAT representatives returned to Mondulkiri this week to recruit seven more hunters and build an office.

Hunters have already been recruited in Koh Kong to patrol parts of the Cardamom mountains and several more are being recruited in Preh Vihear to patrol areas near the Thai border.

The program is overseen by the Wildlife Protection Office, in conjunction with CAT and the University of Minnesota in the US. It is funded through a grant from Exxon.

Lain Sothy’s new salary may be incentive for him to stop hunting, but it doesn’t compare to the money he can make from one poached tiger.

By the time wildlife officials talked with Lain Sothy, he had already sold the tiger, probably for a couple thousand dollars, said Joe Walston, of WCS, which also works to turn hunters into forest stewards.

The tiger could have been sent to Phnom Penh, or directly into Vietnam, with the final destination most likely being China. The price grows as the animals passes through middlemen enroute to a Chinese market. The most valuable parts are the bones and the penis, used in traditional medicines and to allegedly increase virility.

With so much money to be made, there is always someone who wants to hunt tigers. “The problem is you’ve got to get everyone to stop, not just one or two, because it only takes one or two to finish off the job,” Walston said.

Stopping wildlife poaching needs to be done on the local and national level, he said. While there needs to be better defined boundaries of protected areas, increased patrols and more education for villagers that hunting wildlife is illegal, Walston said, national wildlife laws also need to be strengthened.

The government has been drafting a new wildlife law for the past several months. In the meantime, wildlife is being actively hunted and exported out of Cambodia.

“We have to accept the fact that in the next few years, we’re going to lose a lot of [wildlife],” Walston said.

Cat Action Treasury estimates there are several hundred tigers left in Cambodia, though some have said the figure is too high.

Wildlife officials hope Lain Sothy, at least, will no longer be a threat to the country’s dwindling tiger population.

And while he made a lot of money poaching a tiger, Lain Sothy may have been lucky to get caught, before he had the chance to lay his next mine.

At about the same time Lain Sothy killed his tiger, another hunter in his district was injured while rigging a land-mine trap. The mine blew up in his face, blinding him in both eyes and blowing off one of his arms.

Officials from the WPO and CAT had met the man last year while they were interviewing hunters across the country about the abundance of particular animals they see in the forest. They planned to return this year and hire him.

“He was considered an expert hunter and was one of the first guys we were going to recruit,” Weiler said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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