Life in the Koh Kong jungle through the eyes of forest rangers

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The beauty of nature is only matched by the beauty of giving. MIGUEL JERONIMO

A photography exhibit chronicling the lives of forest rangers working toward the environmental protection of the jungles in Koh Kong province will be displayed on Saturday at the capital’s 5 Drunk Men sky bar.

The photos are to be sold to, with the profits going to the Community of Anti-Poaching Unit (CAPU), an organisation of rangers who patrol Koh Kong’s Chi Phat village.

The exhibit will be spearheaded by Phnom Penh-based Portuguese photographer Miguel Jeronimo with the theme Jungle on My Mind.

“We’ll have a total of 24 prints, all of them for sale, with all the proceeds going to CAPU. These are mainly portraits of rangers holding broken mirrors that reflect the forest. Some of them would also be close-up shots of nature. All will be mounted on installations made from materials collected by the rangers themselves, such as nets used for illegally catching birds and snares for other animals,” said Jeronimo.

Jeronimo, who previously held an environmental exhibition called Plastic Kingdom: Different Views on Waste and Ecology in Cambodia, told The Post: “Besides that we’ll show photography documenting the journey of the rangers’ patrols, and a couple of shots of the wildlife release centre near the village. These will be projected onto one of the walls of the exhibition room.”

Jeronimo’s collaborative project with the rangers started more than a year ago after reaching out to the Wildlife Alliance, a leading international organisation in wildlife and environmental conservation.

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The photography exhibition will showcase the life of a ranger. MIGUEL JERONIMO

He played with the idea of using broken mirrors for the portraits as a way of expressing the beautiful transformation of former poachers into rangers who are committed to protecting the environment.

“I spent a weekend in Koh Kong province – both in Chi Phat village where the Wildlife Alliance and the rangers were based, and in the jungle where they patrolled,” said Jeronimo, who has developed a passion for working for NGOs in meaningful projects and collaborating with other artists to curate impactful exhibitions.

He said that the rangers started as poachers themselves as it was one of the few viable livelihoods in the community.

They were later approached by the Wildlife Alliance and were instead provided with an alternative source of income.

They were trained to be protectors of the forest.

“It can be really difficult due to the demands of the job. The rangers go on a five-day patrol and eat and sleep in the jungle after having walked long hours through the forest in search of the traps and snares set up by poachers.

The weather conditions don’t make it easy either, especially with the unrelenting rains and strong winds during the monsoon season. There’s also the risk of encountering illegal poachers wielding weapons,” added Jeronimo.

The Wildlife Alliance also trained the locals in the nearby village of Chi Phat to be trekking guides, homestay hosts, and take on other jobs that support ecotourism as a way to prevent them from going back to harming the local ecosystem.

“I think it is a great opportunity as it’s not only important to raise awareness about wildlife conservation, it’s also important to provide alternative sources of income to the villagers. It’s these options that stop them from harming nature and allow them to earn a living through sustainable means.

“[The villagers] see the potential of nature to support their own needs, so they want to continue to protect it,” Jeronimo said.

He recalled a story of one of the rangers he had patrolled with during his trip.

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The sun bear is said to be genetically extinct in the wild. MIGUEL JERONIMO

“Once a ranger told me: ‘I like being a ranger because I feel a sense of fulfilment from protecting the animals and their habitat. I was a hunter before as well. I came to the forest with my dog in search of animals like civets and pangolins, bears, deer, and wild boars.

“Now, the forest gives us jobs through eco-tourism. We are poor so when tourists come to our village, we benefit.

“I want to keep the animals alive and give the young people a chance to see them because they are almost extinct. It’s important to protect the forest because we are in a wildlife sanctuary. Nature gives us clean water and clean air and protects us from the changing climate.”

Jeronimo said: “Hopefully, the audience will get inspired by this approach of training locals to fight for the environment, with the photos giving a poetic sense to their transition from being poachers to environmental activists.”

After the photo exhibition, a party will follow showcasing various talents such as DJ Lateral, the Neudrop collective – DJs Dalah, Shadows of Space, and Kaza – along with VJ CymaticA.

Other organisations have also donated prizes to be distributed in a raffle.

As for his future plans, Jeronimo said: “I’ve been doing a lot of work with edjais, the informal waste pickers who wander the streets with their carts in search for plastic to sell in the recycling trail. I’ll probably do an exhibition in January about this important issue to further my mission of doing more projects that raise awareness on environmental issues.”

For more information about his exhibits, follow Miguel Jeronimo on Instagram at migueljeronimophotography or call (+855) 10 298 091.