As Khmer New Year approaches, poachers begin to swarm the Kingdom’s forests, looking for quick cash or more meat for their holiday feasts or simply taking advantage of the lax law enforcement, conservationists say.
Conservation officials and NGOs from across Cambodia said illegal hunting spiked in the few weeks before every Khmer New Year, and villagers in Preah Vihear province yesterday confirmed that many of their neighbors had homemade rifles and were making more for pre-holiday hunting.
“It happens every year, about a month before Khmer New Year,” said Ross Sinclair, the country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Though the magnitude of the increase is hard to estimate, experts and locals both say that pre-holiday poaching affects many different mammal species.
A resident of Thmea commune in Preah Vihear’s Chey Sen district, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his neighbors hunted monkeys, deer, sambar, wild pigs, muntjacs and other animals. Half of the locals own homemade guns but authorities rarely notice.
“The villagers are making and preparing homemade rifles, and they will use them to shoot wild animals for food to eat when gathering on Khmer New Year,” he said.
Long Samphat, the Thmea commune chief, acknowledged that some villagers still possess such weapons, although the authorities have confiscated them many times.
Though Sinclair said that he was aware of heightened poaching both for food and for cash, Wildlife Alliance CEO Suwanna Gauntlett said that the vast majority of game is sold. “It’s mostly for sale,” she said. “It happens before all of the major holidays.”
Kim Spreang, director of terrestrial protected areas at the Ministry of Environment, agreed that most poached animals are sold either locally or internationally. Large animals killed before Khmer New Year often find a market in Cambodia.
“Some of the wealthy families like to buy them to make decorations from antlers and horns,” he said, as well as consuming the meat.
Besides homemade rifles, the use of advanced snares has increased in the past year, according to Gauntlett. These indiscriminately capture a broad cross-section of animals.
Spreang said that a big factor in the heightened pre-holiday poaching is relaxed law enforcement. Many officers are on holiday, while others are taking it easy on the job.
“[Perpetrators of] illegal activities take this opportunity of less enforcement,” he said.