The Ministry of Environment and Preah Vihear Provincial Administration called on the authorities in villages and communes near the Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary to increase their cooperation with forest rangers.

The call followed a series of wildfires in the sanctuary. The first started on February 22, and further fires have inflicted serious damage to the protected areas of the sanctuary.

Provincial environment department deputy director Meas Nhem said that following a March 12 wildfire, director-general of Natural Conservation Kim Nong met with local leaders.

“The meeting was attended by the heads of the provincial administration, environmental rangers and local community representatives. Nong detailed the existing wildlife protection laws, ad urged all of the participants to increase their cooperation,” Nhem added.

“He explained that protecting natural resources is in the best interest of the local communities, as well as the Kingdom as a whole,” he said, adding that this year’s fires had damaged over 4,500ha of forest.

“The people who are most affected are those who rely on the forest for the livelihoods,” he warned.

Benjamin Davis, an American environmentalist better known as Ben and is based in the sanctuary, said the situation was brought under control after several days, thanks to the efforts of environmental rangers and members of local communities.

“The wildfire was extinguished, but over 4,500ha of forests and biodiversity in the Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary was badly damaged. Some wild animals – including endangered species – have fled the sanctuary. This is a serious concern,” he said.

Ben, who has been granted Cambodian citizenship for his contribution to wildlife protection, said he believed the fires were started by human activity, through the use of fire to collect forest by-products.

“Some people burn trees to collect resin and honey or to drive animals into traps or ambushes. It is careless, wasteful and illegal,” he said.

“It is hard to identify those who cause the fires or take them to court, as the offenders usually conduct their activities in secret, and are gone by the time our patrols discover the damage,” he added.

He said it is important to identify them, in order to ensure social security and development. To ensure the sustainability of natural resources, he said laws enforcement should be tightened, ideally with the direct participation of local communities.