Cambodian conservation work – not just a man's world

Women are working as hard and sweating as much as the men in WWF conservation programs in remote areas of Kampuchea.

In WWF-Cambodia’s Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP), in the country’s eastern plains, Khmer, foreign and local indigenous Phnong women play a vital role in preserving the Mondulkiri
Protected Forest (MPF).

Hy Somaly, a Phnong indigenous woman, joined SWAP’s Community Extension Team to inform and educate the indigenous community on the importance of wildlife conservation.

«I have to go to different communities to inform and educate them on how to improve their livelihoods with sustainable natural resources use», she explains.

It is testament to Somaly’s skills and talents that she can work across three cultures – her own, Khmer and that of her foreign colleagues.

Her Khmer colleague, Att Sreynak, a data assistant with the Srepok project, notes that though Khmer and Phnong people have different traditions, they can work together very effectively to reach
the projects goals.

«Luckily Somaly can speak Khmer, so there is no language barrier between her and other colleagues», she says.

Sreynak is no stranger to hard work on the project. While collecting data, she often has to walk long distances into the forest. She acknowledges it is quite demanding, but would never let the
mainly male ranger team that accompanies her know.

«Even though the conditions can be quite bad, especially in the rainy season – we would never give up – because we are responsible for getting the job done», she says.

As SWAP has planned to develop its site for ecotourism, Olga van den Pol has been a recent new female addition to team, joining as ecotourism team leader.

Originally from Holland and fluent in many languages, she is still struggling with the Khmer language.

«Though I cannot speak Khmer language, I can ask for help from any Khmer colleagues who can interpret for me. The system works and we recently had a reward from our conservation efforts
with the «capture» by a camera trap, of one tiger we knew was in the forest, but which we had not seen for two years. It was good to know it was still thriving in the forest area we
are protecting and developing», she explains.

She hoped, as a result of WWF-Cambodia’s work in this area, that wildlife populations would increase and alternative livelihoods could be developed to reduce the local communities’ dependence
on natural resource use.

The MPF is a quiet place with fresh air and bird sounds, where some people wish to visit or stay at for a while for pleasure. However, as it has not yet been developed as an ecotourism site, it
also can be considered as a dangerous place, in particular for women who live there for work.

All rangers and police have to leave their posts to go patrolling – leaving only women, who are chef and cleaners at the posts. According to Keo Sopheak, senior SWAP officer, women do not dare
to walk at night around in the open, because they are afraid of dangerous wildlife.

«I can not blame them as in the past we have seen tiger tracks around the camp sites. It is not only wildlife that is dangerous, humans can be worse with hunters and poachers who might
take the opportunity to visit the post sites while the rangers and police are not there», he said.

«Though they feel scared, these women never ever give up their work. They all play a vital role in supporting WWF-Cambodia’s conservation work by keeping our staff strong and healthy.
Working in the hard conditions of the forest might seem like a job more suited to a man, but in the SWAP, the women play just as important a role at every level of our conservation work»,
Sopheak says.

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