The first shots are to be fired later this year in 100,000 hectares of open wilderness by sport hunters at a luxury game reserve planned for Ratanakkiri province along the border with Vietnam, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
After more than four years of discussions with the Spanish company NSOK Safaris, which operates two luxury hunting resorts in Africa, the ministry has now drawn the boundaries for a new protected area for hunting in the province’s O’Yadaw district that will abut the borders of Lumphat district and Mondolkiri province.
“The royal government is pushing for creation of this safari as soon as possible, within four to five months in 2009,” said Dany Chheang, deputy director of the ministry’s wildlife protection office.
A draft sub-decree created in April would allow the ministries of finance, interior and agriculture to stipulate trophy fees for hunters, the permissible use of firearms and allowable animal culls.
The NSOK company in 2007 denied it would permit clients to hunt endangered species and NSOK’s Cambodian attorney Uk Phourik said Friday that hunting elephants would also be prohibited.
NSOK is eager to attract clients seeking to hunt gaur, a species of wild cattle currently designated as “vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union, also known as the IUCN, and whose numbers have declined by 50 percent in Cambodia since the 1990s. The trend for the species in Cambodia as a whole is on a “significant decrease,” according to IUCN.
Dany Chheang said there was no cause for concern in hunting a small number of gaur.
“It is not a problem, but some people are confused in worrying about the extinction of those animals,” he said, adding that the current population within the area of the proposed reserve is 50 to 80 gaur.
Plans are to allow for the controlled hunt of three to five aging male gaur per year in the reserve, said Uk Phourik.
“Foreign hunters love to hunt gaur very much because it will be good for their trophies. These kinds of gaur exist in Afghanistan, and Cambodia has between 50 and 80 in that area,” he said.
Enthusiasts say regulated sport hunting can be an effective means of environmental conservation. However the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation reported in 2004 that it is often less profitable than other forms of eco-tourism such as photographic tourism.
WWF Country Director Seng Teak said Friday that without further study, it is hard to say whether the gaur population can support a controlled offtake by sport hunters.
“We should not give the game for hunting as a priority. We should reintroduce the species to protected areas,” he said.
Ratanakkiri Deputy Provincial Governor Chey Sayoeun said locals feared the hunting reserve plan could damage local farms and wilderness.
“The majority of the public do not agree with the plan because it could harm the sustainability of wildlife in the area,” he said. “It sounds like the province won’t receive any benefits. The company is seemingly uninterested in cooperating with provincial authorities,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)