As Cambodia celebrated World Ranger Day on July 31, a top environment official expressed relief and gratitude that no rangers were seriously injured or killed while on patrol or other duties protecting the Kingdom’s natural resources and guarding its sanctuaries and protected areas this year.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on July 31 that World Ranger Day is observed in Cambodia each year to show appreciation and respect for all of the sacrifices made by park rangers and other officials working on environmental causes related to natural resources.

Pheaktra said Cambodia currently has 1,200 rangers guarding 76 protected areas, including wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, protected landscapes, Ramsar wetlands sites and biodiversity conservation with a total area of 7.3 million hectares.

“The heroism and dedication of the rangers is inspiring and their involvement – along with the government and the Cambodian people – is a crucially important part of preserving the Kingdom’s natural resources and biodiversity,” he said.

He noted that while in their uniforms, the men and women serving as rangers are guardians of the Kingdom’s forests and wildlife, but at home they are also parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents whose families will be involved in protecting natural resources and wildlife for generations to come due to the example the rangers are setting for everyone in their families and communities.

“The environment ministry would like to thank all of the park rangers and express our appreciation for their heroism and acknowledge the sacrifices they have endured both physically and mentally in order to find the strength to perform their duties responsibly and professionally,” he said.

Pheaktra said the ministry takes into account the rangers’ health and wellbeing in determining their scheduled duties and in choosing recruits who can handle the rigors of the job.

He said the ministry is also considering training and strengthening the rangers’ capacities to enhance their job performances and continue to develop both their technical skills and leadership abilities as they often work with local community members, along with upgrading or building various facilities in key locations so that the rangers have sufficient resources to patrol the conservation areas effectively.

The spokesman further noted that the ministry has also been focusing on increasing the salaries of the rangers as well as providing livestock such as goats, sheep and cattle, which is a sensible and sustainable way of improving the livelihoods and food security of the rangers working in remote and rural areas.

According to Pheaktra, there have been no rangers seriously injured while patrolling in conservation areas since the beginning of this year, though there were a few minor injuries from incidents such as traffic accidents.

Over the past nine years, he noted, there have been two rangers killed by gunmen while on duty and many others who were injured while on missions or who have been shot at, threatened or placed in mortal danger while defending Cambodia’s natural heritage.

In marking World Ranger Day on July 31 as it has done in previous years, the ministry organised a public event with press in attendance that highlighted some important messages about their missions with pictures, reports and music videos about the duties and lives of rangers who are protecting the environment and the Kingdom’s natural resources.

Seng Teak, country director of World Wide Fund for Nature Cambodia (WWF-Cambodia), said he has nothing but the deepest respect for rangers’ hard work and sacrifices.

“Our rangers and river guards work day and night to protect the forests, wildlife and fishing waters. They are protecting our rare species from the ravages of hunting, snaring, illegal fishing and other environmentally destructive practices, which wantonly destroy the natural world for selfish gain and put our rangers and river guards in danger regularly,” he said.

Chhin Phat Thavdy, one of the few female rangers working for the ministry and one of only three rangers total at the Prek Prasob Wildlife Sanctuary in Kratie province, said she was happy to work as a ranger because she was contributing to the protection and conservation of natural resources.

“Even though my job as a ranger patrolling in the deep forest means facing all kinds of hardships, my family and I are happy that I am able to fulfil this work. I’ve never thought it was too difficult, but I don’t believe in the concept of men’s work or women’s work.

“Jobs don’t have gender bias, they just have the work that must get done. Anything that a man can do – a woman can also do it if she commits herself to it – that is the most important thing,” she said.