This month, the world commemorated Wildlife Conservation Day to focus attention on the growing problem of the illicit trade of threatened and endangered wildlife species. This multibillion-dollar industry hurts Cambodia and many other countries across Asia. The intense demand for products derived from some of Asia’s iconic land animals, such as elephants and tigers, and plant life, such as Cambodia’s fast-depleting rosewood trees, threatens peace and security in the region.
Wildlife trafficking attracts transnational criminal networks also involved in money laundering and trafficking in arms and narcotics. High prices for illicit wildlife products breed corruption, threaten the rule of law, and thwart economic development in countries like Cambodia. Other effects of wildlife trafficking include damage to Cambodia’s natural beauty, decrease in its freshwater supplies and food production, and loss of tourism revenue.
In Cambodia, wildlife conservation is important because several high-profile indigenous species, including rosewood, the elephant, the tiger, and several species of monkeys, are among the most threatened. As an example of the growing threat, across the world only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, a scant three percent of the number that thrived a century ago. Tigers have become extinct in 11 of the 24 Asian countries where they once thrived. This is a tragedy for countries like Cambodia.
So what is the U.S. government doing to help Cambodia address this problem? In October, the USAID Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program provided hands-on instruction on combating wildlife smuggling to 32 anti-trafficking officials in Trapeang Phlong, Cambodia. This training was part of a cooperative effort with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Environment Program (UNEP), and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) through the Partnership Against Transnational Crime.
USAID ARREST, in cooperation with Wildlife Alliance, Cambodia Airports, and the Cambodian Forestry Administration, has placed public service announcements about wildlife trafficking in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports. These ads, in both Khmer and English, discourage wildlife trafficking and encourage the public to report wildlife crime via Cambodia’s wildlife criminal hotline.
I am pleased to see that Cambodians are taking steps to combat the growing threat to important indigenous wildlife, and I encourage the Cambodian people to increase their awareness of this problem and to act vigilantly to protect and conserve their precious natural resources.