Long a feature of the African tourism industry, hunting on enclosed preserves may come to Cambodia if a Spanish company wins approval for a proposed game reserve in Ratanakkiri province, company and government officials said Monday.
The Madrid-based NSOK Safaris has won the support of the Agriculture Ministry to create a hunting area at an undisclosed location in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadaw district, officials said Monday. It is unclear, however, if the project will receive final approval.
Agriculture Ministry Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves said Monday his ministry is drafting a sub-decree to define the perimeters of the hunting area but referred further questions to Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokhun, who could not be reached for comment.
Dany Chheang, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s wildlife protection office, said the hunting reserve would be for high-end visitors.
“This is a type of eco-tourism, but it’s not for backpackers. It’s for VIP tourists,” he said, adding that animals under consideration for the hunt inside the reserve could include wild cattle and deer as well as a limited number of the bovine species gaur.
“Our study in the field has finished and shows that the gaur can be taken [for hunting]. But it is a very low percentage, one or two a year,” he said.
Guar are an endangered population, which is in decline and has a global population of between 13,000 and 30,000, according to IUCN, also known as the World Conservation Union.
Dany Chheang said that NSOK Safaris intended to provide “five-star service” at its proposed reserve. The company maintains game reserves in Cameroon and Tanzania where it employs onsite taxidermists, according to its Web site.
“Our cuisine is excellent, consisting of the freshest ingredients of highest quality,” the Web site says of the Tanzania location, where hunters pay trophy fees of $7,500 for an elephant, $4,000 for a leopard, $1,400 for a crocodile and $150 for a baboon. A 21-day safari can cost up to $39,000 per client.
Dany Chheang said the project was an opportunity to regulate hunting and recoup the value of animals that are being lost to poachers already. “Wildlife hunting happens every day,” he said. “We are burning our dollars.”
Speaking on behalf of NSOK Safaris, Enrique Maestre said Monday that the company would not be hunting endangered species.
“[W]e are not hunting endangered species and…I cannot give you any further information until everything has been officially signed and granted by the Cambodian authorities,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Please do not forget that our project is a community development one and ecologically sustainable,” he added.
NSOK Safaris has so far spent $1.3 million on preliminary studies over three years in Cambodia with no guaranteed return on its investment, Maestre added.
WWF Program Manager Bas van Helvoort said his organization had become aware that a game reserve was planned for an area north of the Mondolkiri Protected Forest and east of the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary in Ratanakkiri.
Van Helvoort said that in principle, there’s no reason not to undertake hunting as long as it can be proven that the species being hunted has the capacity to sustain itself-in terms of habitat, food and reproduction of its numbers—within a particular ecosystem.
However, from a conservation standpoint, hunting an endangered species is never acceptable, van Helvoort said, adding that the movement of animals between hunting reserves and protected areas may also be an issue.
“In our own protected areas, we do not know very clearly how the animals move around, let alone outside them,” he said.