Enemies to friends: Rangers team up with former loggers as ecotourism guides

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The Ministry of Environment has set out a forest protection policy to generate income from carbon credit sales and ecotourism, with rangers and members of the forest community in protected areas acting as the first line of defense.

The ministry said the two are now helping to boost ecotourism and their own income by acting as guides for ecotourists.

In Oral district, Kampong Speu province, a 41-year-old man named Ry Rann understands the value of trees well.

The former logger has turned his life around and is now dedicated to conserving natural resources and protecting the environment in return for income from ecotourism.

A resident of the mountainous regions of the Oral district, Rann derived his income mainly from the collection of forest by-products and the exploitation of timber.

In the 1990s he collected kravanh love mushrooms and chopping down trees until prominent American environmentalist Ben Davis – who had been granted Cambodian citizenship with his family by a January 26 royal decree in recognition of his 27 years of environmental protection – came to the district in 2000 and taught him a more in-depth approach. understanding of the value of forests and animals close to home.

Rann, father of five children, is now a tourist guide in the mountains and for certain tourist sites in the province of Kampong Chhnang

“I started guiding tourists through the mountains and started hiking in the woods occasionally in 2007 guiding plant researchers,” he said.

Then, in 2017, Rann started guiding tourists on hikes through the forests and became an environmentalist and a member of the environmental movement.

“In my spare time, I look for new places that have rocks and beautiful wildflowers. I take pictures of them to advertise them to tourists who want to see them. I also remove the traps to bring them home. when I see them and when Wildlife Alliance arrives, I hand them over to their organization,” he said.

He added that he enjoys guiding tourists on hikes much more than in his previous job. It’s a lower income than logging, but it’s legal and safe work. Before, in addition to logging, he harvested tree resins and made torches to sell.

“I was born to walk in the mountains. Even though I am over 40 now, I can still hike in the forests as usual. If I don’t walk, I get bored and have nothing to do. I also take photos of animals and remove them from traps,” he said.

Protect natural resources

Ry Rann is a member of the Khnong Veal community which is in the process of registering as a legally recognized forest community.

Former woodcutter Ry Rann in Oral district of Kampong Speu province. PROVIDED

“The areas we allow to be designated as ecotourism areas fall into two categories. The areas are either the communities designated for natural tourism or protected natural areas where there is a natural park or wildlife sanctuary with tourism potential,” said the Secretary of State and spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, Neth Phaaktra.

He added that the Ministry of Tourism has encouraged some other areas to be designated as ecotourism areas which are managed by forest communities because of the help they provide in the protection of natural resources.

“They can generate more income for their communities. For example, Thmat Beuy forest community, Chrok La Eang waterfall or Andong Kraloeng ecotourism community in Mondulkiri province. This is a new choice that we have proposed as a solution to reduce pressure on natural resources.

“It means providing new jobs and income to people by making them reduce their logging and animal hunting,” Pheaktra said.

Before hiking in the mountains, Rann teaches tourists how to stay safe and behave responsibly in nature and tells them what to bring on their trip.

He tells them about the dangers and safety risks in the forest, including where they can sit and relax.

Acting somewhat like bodyguards, one guide must walk in front of the tourists and the other behind them.

Rann tells them not to bring hard objects such as glass and instead use rubber bottles to avoid breaking them and that they should take all their trash with them and burn it when they return home. civilization.

“Even when we cut wood for campfires, we are not cutting good wood. We use bamboo to light a fire. As for canned fish, we burn it and then bury the canned food. They will rust but the metal does not cause problems for the environment,” he said.

“What we always have to carry is water and cooked rice because they need to eat on the way and if we are separated from each other they will always have food on them. This is of a preventative measure, but we’ve never had the problem,” Rann added.

In addition, rangers could also play a role as potential guides in protected natural areas.

“Keeping Safe”

Ranger Loy Hangda from Ratanakkiri province, who coordinates trips to Virachey National Park, said environmental rangers guided tourists on visits to mountainous areas and fields of Yak Yu and others. community protected areas like Yakkong Kriev Mountain and Yakke Waterfall.

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A tourist enjoys the view of Chakyouk Calf in Virachey National Park. PHIROM SHUN

She added that Yak Yu Mountain does not attract many tourists as it is 50 km from Virachey National Park headquarters in Veun Sai district of the province.

It would take tourists five days of walking to get there. Yakkong Kriev mountain and Yakke waterfall is located in Taveng Loeu commune of Taveng district, province, about 48 km.

“Usually we have the rangers and a guide who take tourists to these areas. It is normal for them to visit protected areas. We have to have the rangers with them, who keep the tourists safe and they can even talk with the tourists in English,” she said.

Community members can generate income by helping tourists transport their belongings and cook to serve them, as the area is popular with foreign tourists and they spend at least two to three days there.

“Currently, we have a lot of Cambodian tourists and foreign tourists come one by one. However, we also limit the number of tourists to a maximum of 10 because we care about environmental issues and their safety. Usually, within a week, we receive maybe two tour groups,” Hangda said.

The area has ecotourism attractions such as rowing, hiking, wildlife viewing, forest camping, Teuk Chuor Toeng Resort, indigenous cultures with events like traditional dances, accommodation, boat services and food.

As part of the tourism industry, rangers are allowed to act as guides in exchange for additional income and to protect the safety of visitors.

“Forest rangers are authorized to act as tourist guides in protected natural areas with the approval of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Economy and Finance. As for profit, they can collect a $20 fee from visitors,” Pheaktra said.

“The reason we allow rangers to act as tour guides is that they know the way and know the situation in protected natural areas with plants and other animals. And that provides extra income for the rangers,” he said.

He added that the promotion of ecotourism was an important part of building the local economy and increasing people’s income.

Some ecotourism communities work with rangers, which helps rangers learn more about the situation in deeply forested areas, such as in Virachey National Park, which has very difficult terrain that takes tourists three or four days to cross. .

“Acting as guides is only a side job, but it is a job that plays a central role in the protection, management and conservation of natural resources while helping them to suppress crimes, eliminate traps and working with communities in protected areas to patrol the forests,” Phaktra says.

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