Gov’t Approves R’kiri Game Hunting Preserve

After four years of a discussions with a Spanish safari company and three years of planning, the government on Friday announced the creation of what will be Southeast Asia’s only preserve for hunting wild game, including vulnerable populations of Indian Bison, officials said.

At its weekly meeting Friday, the Council of Ministers adopted a sub-decree establishing a new, 100,000-hectare conservation area in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadaw district that will be used for hunting.

The plans have aroused consternation among conservationists who say the main trophy, the Indian Bison, or gaur, may not yet exist in numbers that will support even modest hunts in the area.

“The creation of the protected forest for entertainment and game hunting will involve careful management that allows for field research, that can provide direct benefit to conservation by pushing local hunters and those from a neighboring country out of the area,” according to a Council of Min­isters statement released to the media. O’Yadaw district borders neighboring Vietnam.

Executives from the Madrid-based company NSOK Safaris, which operates luxury hunting preserves in Cameroon and Tanzania, said Friday that pending further approvals for animal quotas and policies on ammunition, they could not comment on the developments in Phnom Penh.

“What we can say is that the sub-decree has been approved and that there’s more work to do,” Felix Barrado, a professional hunter and partner in the company who visited Phnom Penh for Friday’s announcement, said by telephone.

Classified as a “vulnerable” species by the World Conservation Union, the Cambodian gaur population has halved in the past 20 years, and authorities believe that as few as 50 to 80 may still exist in the area of the future NSOK Safaris preserve.

Globally, only 13,000 are thought to exist.

Officials say plans are to allow for the controlled cull of three to five aging gaur bulls per year in the game reserve.

Dany Chheang, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s wildlife protection office, which helped draft the sub-decree approved Friday, said officials had initially hoped to open the preserve this year but that finalizing additional regulations, such as taxation and trophy fees, will likely delay this.

“Hopefully these documents will be completed in early 2010,” he said.

Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said he approved of the plan because it would employ locals and help end poaching in the area.

“This respects the traditional rights of the minority people who love wildlife,” he said. “If the government chooses them [to work in the reserve], then this project will succeed because they are the lovers of wildlife.”

Enthusiasts claim regulated sport hunting can be an effective means of environmental conservation.

The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation reported in 2004 that other forms of eco-tourism such as photographic touring, while more damaging to the environment, can also be more profitable than hunting.

Copies of the sub-decree approved Friday showed that it called for the punishment of illegal hunting, but it did not stipulate any penalties.

(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)

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