Living out the rest of your life crammed in a cage in a dark, damp room; this is the reality of life for the millions of birds that are being trafficked as part of Southeast Asia’s thriving illegal wildlife trade. Photos taken by our Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) whilst on an operation in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, captured a glimpse of what is a thriving and somber illegal bird trade taking place all over Asia.
Hill mynas, white-vented mynas, spotted doves, and oriental magpie- robins were all confiscated as part of the raid by WRRT who have confiscated an estimated 71,440 birds from the hands of traffickers from 2001 to 2018. The operation is part of Wildlife Alliance’s larger efforts to crack down on Cambodia’s illegal wildlife trade.
Although Wildlife Alliance’s WRRT has already been successful in shutting down all illegal wet markets from Cambodia, there is still much work to be done to stop the insidious trade.
Approximately seven kilometres outside of a quaint little riverside village named Chi Phat you will find our Wildlife Release Station in Koh Kong. Nestled in the ‘Amazon of Asia’, or the Cardamom Mountains, you will find this rustic little station operating to release animals confiscated from illegal wildlife traffickers back into the wild, giving them a second chance at life. Down windy narrow dirt forest trails on the back of a moto is the only way to get there, and forms part of the adventure and charm of an overnight visit to the station.
Wildlife Release Station – Accommodation
The accommodation is basic — wooden chalets, cold showers, solar power and limited internet access — but it’s an opportunity to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with nature. The schedule is up to you; jump in a hammock with a book; go on a hike with one of our experienced guides; or track released animals with the Keepers!
But the one thing you won’t want to miss is feeding time! As the station is an operating release station year round there is often a small collection of animals that are in various stages of the release process. Your chances of being present at the actual time of a release are minimal, we like to be upfront and honest about this, however, we do not believe, and guest feedback would tend to indicate, that won’t put a damper on your stay. Learning about the release process, the individual stories of the animals present, and then seeing a few releases who have gone on to call the station home ensures you’ll have an unforgettable experience.
Sambar deer, leopard cats, sun bear, langurs, hornbills, and arguably one of the biggest drawcards, and what makes this an overnight adventure, pangolins!! Currently, the only captive breeding and release facility for this critically endangered species in Cambodia, your chances of coming across this species in the wild are, well, you’re more likely to win the lottery.
So this is really a unique opportunity, getting to observe this species at their nightly feeding, which is why we have guests join us overnight. In addition to the relaxed jungle vibes, the creatures on their journeys back to the wild and the ability to disconnect from the outside world for a night or two, our Wildlife Release Station offers some of the best home-cooked Khmer food you’ll find anywhere in Cambodia.
The Keepers, come cooks, have even picked up a few trips and tricks from our international visitors and can surprise you with a few dishes from abroad and can even cater to most dietary requirements.
With 100% of the proceeds from your stay helping to keep the station in operation, why not make a booking now?
This tour gives visitors an exclusive opportunity to see wildlife conservation firsthand, and experience Cambodia’s unique natural heritage. Sleep in comfortable chalets, receive freshly cooked local meals, and meet the incredible staff that rehabilitates and releases animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Activities include feeding resident wildlife, hiking into the jungle to spot local flora and fauna, swimming in crystal clear pools and setting camera traps to monitor released wildlife.
Poachers were smuggling these Critically Endangered elongated tortoises out of the Cardamom Mountains rainforest. These tortoises were destined to be sold into Vietnam and China’s illegal wildlife trade, where they were most likely to end up on a plate at a restaurant. Fortunately, our Trapeang station rangers apprehended the poachers and confiscated these elongated tortoises, one of 6 Critically Endangered species found in the Cardamom Mountains that our team of more than 140 rangers works to protect 24/7.
Shell considerably depressed, more than twice as long as deep, with flat vertebral region; anterior and posterior margins slightly reverted, strongly serrated in young, feebly in old specimens; shields concentrically striated, except in old specimens; nuchal present (rarely absent), narrow and elongate; supracaudal undivided, more or less incurved; first vertebral usually nearly as long as broad in the adult, the others broader than long and nearly as broad as the costals.
Via Critically Endangered elongated tortoises saved by rangers
Wildlife Alliance rangers have uncovered a new type of innovative homemade gun that poachers are using to decimate wildlife in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains. Only a few guns of the new design have been confiscated by rangers, all of them in recent months, suggesting that poachers are starting to change their tactics. The new design is made entirely from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic and uses marbles as ammunition; a small gas canister fills up a plastic chamber that fires a marble at a sufficient speed to kill the animal.
One of the new design guns confiscated from poachers by Wildlife Alliance rangers.
Gun powder is easily obtainable to poachers; Wildlife Alliance rangers have even found the remnants of plastic bullet toys at illegal poacher camps that were ground down to retrieve powder. Not all poachers use homemade guns though. Some are able to get their hands on AK-47 machine guns that are far more effective at poaching wildlife and also pose a far greater threat to our rangers as they work to protect one of Southeast Asia’s last great rainforests.
These aren’t the first homemade guns confiscated by rangers. Since the establishment of the Cardamom Forest Protection Program in 2002, more than 900 guns have been confiscated from the hands of poachers. However, these new guns differ from their more-traditional counterparts — the design is far more simple — that are made from wood and rely on gunpowder to fire loose ball bearings.
Gunpowder removed from a kid’s toy that was found in an illegal poacher’s camp.
Homemade guns are simple and cheap to make but they can have devastating impacts on Cambodia’s wildlife. Animals that fall victim to being shot end up as bushmeat — the meat of wild animals hunted for human consumption — trafficked onto urban centers or further onto Vietnam and China. Whilst Wildlife Alliance’s rangers are fighting the illegal wildlife trade at the source, our Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) is cracking down on the middlemen and traders in urban centers ensuring that the trade is being tackled across the entire supply chain.
During a recent raid, Chambok station rangers seized more than 3 tonnes of illegal luxury timber from a house within their patrol quadrant. A total of 227 pieces of Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis), known as ‘Krak kranhoong’ locally, were seized in the raid. Siamese rosewood is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and is becoming increasingly rare because of demand for the illegal timber industry. An estimated 85% of Cambodia’s timber exports end up in China, feeding the craze for Hongmu furniture, a highly-sought-after type of luxury furniture. The rangers also seized small amounts of ‘Nangnuon’, another type of luxury timber, as well as sero skin and 1 dead red muntjak.
This World Ranger Day support the rangers on the frontline protecting one of Asia’s last great rainforests.
Southeast Asia is at the epicenter of the global extinction crisis and threats are on the rise. Without rangers, there would be no hope for turning the tide in the fight to protect some of the world’s most threatened and endangered species.
Wildlife Alliance’s 143 rangers work tirelessly on the front lines, risking their lives every day to:
Locate and remove snares that indiscriminately maim or kill wildlife
Find and apprehend poachers and loggers who are wiping out wildlife and their habitat
Without these conservation heroes, the Cardamom Rainforest Landscape, one of the largest intact rainforests in Southeast Asia, would be just another ‘paper park’ like the majority of protected areas in the region. Our high-performing rangers directly protect over 55 IUCN Threatened species across over 2 million acres of rainforest. By making a donation this World Ranger Day, you can help secure the livelihood of these brave men and their families and ensure the Cardamom Rainforest remains a safe haven for elephants, pangolins, clouded leopards and many other iconic species.
Enrichment is defined as ‘the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something’ or, in the context of caring for animals, ‘providing species-appropriate challenges, opportunities and stimulation…including the regular provision of dynamic environments, cognitive challenges and social opportunities’. Whilst enrichment that encourages the development of natural behaviours is imperative for any individual who plans to be released back into the wild, it is just as important for those individuals that may be permanently injured and with us for life.
The vast majority of animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade have lost their behaviours normally learnt from their parents as they are often removed from a young age. Animals may come into our care with stereotyping stress behaviours, even from a young age, due to the conditions under which they were kept. Enrichment is one way we can try to help to counteract these stress behaviours and try to introduce more natural ones.
Enrichment involves a lot of trial and area, as well as a lot of research! The ideas are often created from observing the animals in their natural environment, which may be done through photos or video, and then thinking of creative ways to replicate this and the behaviours it encourages. Design, materials, and construction all need to take into consideration the safety of the animal, and also those building it of course. We’re lucky these days with the marvel that is the internet, that information sharing is so accessible and often other zoos and rescues centres are happy to share ideas. Then it’s just a matter of tweaking it to fit with the availability of materials, and often for us, funding. But these realities just add to the creative challenge of seeing what we can make work!
And sometimes things just don’t go to plan..For example, our civet enclosures had been looking a bit sparse and lacking green. Careful consideration and research was required to find some possible solutions. The plants had to be non-toxic to the species, able to grow in limited lighting and suitable for poor soil conditions. After much deliberation and consultation with the staff and a local nursery, a couple of suitable options were purchased for trial. The plants were carefully positioned within the enclosure with the residents keeping a close eye on the action from their sleeping quarters (civets are nocturnal so they didn’t appreciate the daytime disruptions to their slumber!). The staff returned the next day to find the plants total devoid of all vegetation. The civets clearly enjoyed the new additions to the enclosure as a midnight snack…It’s back to the drawing board on this one!
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Videos and stories from the goings-on in our program
As part of an ambitious rewilding project in the forest surrounding the iconic Angkor Wat, a pair of Endangered pileated gibbons was released last week by APSARA, the Forestry Administration (FA), and conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance.
This is the third pair of pileated gibbons that have been successfully released into the forest since the project started in 2013.
Cambodia is the world stronghold for the pileated gibbon, but habitat destruction and capture for the illegal wildlife trade jeopardizes the species listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains, mainland Southeast Asia’s last unfragmented rainforest under the protection of Wildlife Alliance – Ministry of Environment rangers, holds the largest known population of pileated gibbons.
Nick Marx, Wildlife Alliance’s Director of Wildlife Rescue & Care, said, “There are very few forests in Cambodia that can offer such high levels of protection for wildlife. The forests surrounding Angkor Wat are a perfect habitat and offer a much needed safe haven for this persecuted species.”
Poachers will shoot adult gibbons for their meat, and sell their offspring into the illegal wildlife trade as pets.
Since their establishment, Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team have rescued around 70,000 animals from Cambodia’s illegal wildlife trade.
The NGO has also released smooth-coated otters, Indian muntjac, common palm civets, and silvered langurs into the forest around the temples of Angkor as part of the project.
“So far our project to restore wildlife to Angkor has proceeded very well and cooperation with APSARA and FA has been excellent. Our aim is to continue this collaboration and release further appropriate species in the future.”
Wildlife Alliance and APSARA will continue to monitor the gibbons to ensure that they thrive in their new home.
Yesterday, Wildlife Alliance rangers from Osom and Roveang stations, in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, ambushed a truck carrying an inordinate amount of illegal timber. The truck that was carrying a enormous 19m3 of illegal timber, or 670 cubic feet, was seized at night on a road near the station. The ambush was carried out based on prior information given to the rangers. The timber was mostly likely being transported to a major urban center to be sold into the illegal timber market.
Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) recently confiscated almost 400 birds being sold along National Road 5 in Kampong Chhnang Province. A shocking 365 dead weaver birds were found in the raids, along with 4 dead spotted doves (Spilopelia chinensis) and 5 dead red collared doves (Streptopelia tranquebarica). A further 22 red collared doves were found alive and were released by WRRT back into the wild. Wildlife is commonly sold along the national road that connects the capital Phnom Penh with Thailand. Catching those trading illegal wildlife can often be difficult to catch, with vendors hiding wildlife in nearby forests or fleeing when wildlife police carry out raids.
An analysis of 17 years of data from WRRT’s work tackling Cambodia’s illegal wildlife trade found that birds were the most confiscated class of animal, with a total of 71,440 birds confiscated by the unit between 2001 and 2018. Birds are trafficked in Cambodia’s illegal wildlife trade for either food, as pets, or to be released for making spiritual merit (or ‘merit release’). Trade for merit release has led to the establishment of a considerable trade in the region. For example, it’s estimated around 690,000 are sold for merit release purposes in Phnom Penh alone a year. A recent Facebook post with photographs of dead leopard cats, snakes, and multiple bird species along National Road 5 shows the scale of the illegal wildlife trade taking place along the road.