Deminer Documents Wildlife in Mine-Strewn Areas

Shathel Fahs had been demining Cambodia’s forests and rice paddies for a year with NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and seen many wildlife, from birds to lizards and deers.

But that day in 2010, while Mr. Fahs was briefing his team in Pailin province, his roughly one dozen deminers got scared. 

A lizard stands on a landmine in Pailin province. (Shathel Fahs/MAG)
A lizard stands on a landmine in Pailin province. (Shathel Fahs/MAG)

“They were screaming ‘there’s a tiger coming up behind you,’” Mr. Fahs said.

“Later we found out that it was a fishing cat, which looks like a leopard, but much smaller and very, very aggressive,” Mr. Fahs, a technical field manager based in Battambang province, said.

Since the endangered fishing cat was just one species of Cambodia’s wildlife Mr. Fahs spotted, the idea to start photographing animals in minefields was born.

“There are a lot of animals in the minefields, and the idea was to start this collection of different wildlife,” he said.

Over the past three years, Mr. Fahs has photographed lizards, geckos, eagles, snakes, tarantulas and deer.

“There is no evidence of animals triggering mines, but any animal can set off an anti-personnel mine because they get more sensitive with age,” he said.

Since 1979, mines have killed more than 19,600 people and left more than 44,600 maimed and injured.
While the government’s demining arm the Cambodian Mine Action Center has cleared the majority of mines and UXOs, NGOs like MAG make significant contributions.

Between July 2012 and June 2013, MAG cleared 2,248,572 square meters of land in priority areas, removed and destroyed 3,400 landmines and more than 8,000 unexploded ordnance.

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