Poaching was a serious business for Chran Thabb - until his tracking skills were put to better use protecting his former prey. He is one of 45 rangers in the remote eastern province of Mondulkiri recruited for a grassroots tourism project that uses employment incentives to encourage environmental conservation.
"Before, whenever I saw an animal in the forest, my first thought was to shoot it," said Chran, now a guide for treks around Dei Ey village, in a protected forest area in Mondulkiri.
"I don't do that any more. The animals would become extinct and I want the next generation to see them," he said.
Because of its forests, mountains and rare wildlife, rugged Mondulkiri has been targeted by the Cambodian government as an area for eco-tourism development, after lobbying by WWF. The wildlife group launched conservation projects more than four years ago in this remote region, which has been likened to Africa's Serengeti for its abundant wildlife.
WWF has recruited former hunters to put their knowledge of the forest and expert tracking skills to good use. The overall aim is to establish an environment where wildlife can recover after years of hunting, poaching and neglect. Richer wildlife, conservationists hope, will attract tourists - and, in turn, create jobs for local communities.
Most of Mondulkiri's impoverished population comprises indigenous communities who practise shifting cultivation but also grow cash crops, although this is under threat from deforestation and changing climate patterns, according to a September 2009 report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). More....