Benjamin Joseph Davis – a well-known conservationist and environmentalist in Cambodia for about a decade, who was granted citizenship by the king in January this year – has dug more than 30 km of ditches around the area under his protection to prevent wildlife from entering the area roam the farmers’ fields and eat their crops, but also to keep them away from poachers’ traps.
Davis, known to most in the kingdom simply as Ben, was recently digging a protective ditch in the Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok nature reserve in Preah Vihear province, but the project ran out of funds during the rainy season, so he decided to put the work on hold for a while .
After hearing about this issue, the founder of the Eatame website, an online marketplace for locally made goods, launched a “Let’s Play the $1 Game” campaign to help Ben complete his canals and Cambodia’s forests and wildlife to protect.
Ben told the Post on September 18 that the main purpose of digging the trenches is to deter animals from eating farmers’ crops and to prevent them from being caught in traps such as snares or pits.
“Animals go to eat people’s crops and then people get angry and they set traps and hunt them, so we lose a lot of wildlife, so we have to dig ditches and build fences in some places,” he said.
“The budget received from the Department of Environment is only $20,000 per year. We’ve already used all the money and we still need about $60,000 to dig another 10 miles of canals,” he continued.
He said that according to their plans, they plan to dig a protective trench 32 km long at a depth of 2.5 m. So far they have dug about 16 km of the planned route.
“Maybe we start digging again in the dry season because we also need to monitor what percentage of digging is actually effective and what percentage is subsequently lost to landslides, even though we planted 13,000 bamboo trees along these canals to prevent landslides.” ‘ he said.
The founder of Eaname’s Facebook page and website went to Preah Vihear to see Ben’s work in person. He said seeing Ben – a foreigner – struggling mightily to protect Cambodia’s natural resources inspired him to find a way to help.
So he launched a campaign called “$1 for Ben’s channels to protect Cambodia’s forests and wildlife”. He said he hopes that through this campaign, environmentally conscious Cambodians will show their support by donating at least US$1 each to help dig the shelter canals.
Ben said the campaign had already raised almost $20,000 in about two days after accepting donations.
“I am grateful and happy that so many Cambodians are involved in funding the digging of this canal. We continue to ask those who are willing to help to donate what they can as we are approximately $40,000 short of the current donation total. Hopefully all work will be completed by 2023, but if there are no funds to carry it out, it will end completely,” he said.
He said that every year during the dry season, the wild animals venture out of the forest to eat the farmers’ crops because the area adjacent to the farms and fields is a core natural area with dense forests.
“Every year when the wild animals eat the farmers’ crops, we pay the farmers $1,000 or sometimes even $2,000 in compensation, but now the farmers are suing us and demanding too much money, but we have no money to pay them.” .
“We believe that digging this canal will reduce the number of animals entering the plantations since most of the animals are in this densely forested area,” he said.
He also revealed that the natural resource and wildlife sanctuary at Phnom Tnaot-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, which the Ministry of Environment has worked with him to develop, is preparing to welcome tourists in the coming dry season.
Ministry of Environment Under Secretary Neth Pheaktra thanked all Cambodians and others who donated for their contributions to the protection and management of natural resources and wildlife at the Phnom Pok-Phnom Tnaot Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Digging the channel is a measure approved by the Ministry to prevent wildlife from leaving the protected area and to mark the boundaries of the area to identify it as a high-level nature and wildlife conservation core area. After the flooding, the canals will also provide an additional source of water for wildlife living in the area,” he said.
He said the ministry had approved Ben and his family’s involvement in the protection and conservation of forest and wildlife, providing him with both material and financial support and that they had worked well with the park rangers and the community on all projects undertaken in the kingdom.
He also pointed out that the ministry – through the Social and Environmental Fund – has supported Ben and the protected area community in developing the area as an ecotourism destination with funding of $20,000 per year for 5 years starting in 2019 and this year their first guests arrive.