Felix Café, Phnom Penh
July 28, 2017
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening. I arrived in Cambodia last week, and I am truly excited that my introduction to Cambodian civil society groups is such a thought-provoking and creative fusion of activism, education, and art. I would first like to thank the CEO of Wildlife Alliance, Suwanna Gauntlett, a woman whom I understand needs no introduction! Suwanna’s countless contributions over decades have helped wildlife and communities here in Cambodia and beyond. I look forward to learning more about your work. I would also like to thank Wildlife Alliance’s Science Director, Tom Gray, for organizing this event. I know you, too, have a long and dedicated history here. And last but not least, thank you to the artist – Pothmolita Dou, also known as “Apple Love,” for creating this unique and high-impact artwork – you have done a wonderful job.
This exhibit could not come at a better time: Cambodia’s wild spaces are suffering increased encroachment, putting even greater pressure on its wildlife. Sadly, poachers are increasingly using snares to trap animals, becoming enormous threat to wildlife, especially for endangered species. As you know, Cambodia’s forests are home to significant numbers of animals and birds of regional and global importance, including globally threatened species such as the Asian elephant, the Malayan sun bear, the pileated gibbon, the pangolin, and the smooth-coated otter – to name but a few. Wildlife numbers in Southeast Asia are declining faster than anywhere else in the world – and snares are a major contributor to this decline.
Snares are cheap and kill indiscriminately and cruelly – as this exhibit helps illustrate. These silent killers carpet the tropical forests of the region and catch, maim, and kill any animal unlucky enough to encounter them. I understand that last year, forest patrols found and confiscated over 25,000 illegal snares in Cambodia’s protected areas alone. Many hundreds of thousands more are removed from across Southeast Asia’s protected areas annually – and yet, unfortunately, their removal has little impact given how easy it is to place snares.
For that reason, we need to concentrate on the demand side. The suffering and the impact of snares are largely hidden, taking place in forests far away from urban centers where bush meat often ends up being consumed. That’s why I’m pleased to see this art exhibit raising awareness about the real impact of snares on wildlife, vividly illustrating the costs by bringing the reality of snaring closer to Cambodia’s urban communities. Mobilizing support from everyday citizens, many of whom may not be aware about the devastating impact of snares, is a really important and under-utilized pillar in Cambodia’s efforts to stem the tide of the snaring crisis and save endangered wildlife.
I am pleased that the U.S. government is playing a role in helping Cambodia deal with this issue. A number of our agencies – USAID, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State – are working with the Cambodian Ministries of Environment, Justice, and Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, to bolster law enforcement, support forest rangers, and stop illegal wildlife poaching with snares. Just last month my new boss, Ambassador Heidt, opened a national roundtable on strengthening the criminal justice response to wildlife trafficking with our Cambodian partners at the Justice Ministry. Together all these efforts make a difference – but much work remains to be done. I look forward, over my coming years in Cambodia, to having the opportunity to do my part in protecting this amazing country’s environmental legacy.
Once again I would like to thank Wildlife Alliance and Apple Love for their innovative work in creating this meaningful and inspirational art exhibit to encourage us to stop snaring forever. I look forward to seeing the exhibit displayed at the Daylight Plaza Aeon Mall next week where it will reach a large audience.