Suy Senglim credits a French journalist he met in 2000 for his interest in photography.
Since 2012, the Cambodian man has used his love of photography for a good cause: protecting wildlife.
As more and more animal species began to disappear from Kandal province, he grew worried. So he created a photo project he hopes will bring more attention to the loss of natural habitat in Cambodia.
Now 35 years old, Suy Senglim carefully documents each species he photographs. He records the common name of each creature, its scientific name and identifying qualities, and whether or not the species is endangered.
He hopes to educate Cambodians about the importance of bird species and the effect development has on nature.
“The biggest issue is damage to habitat and poaching. Besides that, it is due to demand from the rich who desire wild meat and who consider wild meat chemical-free,” he told VOA.
The Giant Ibis is Cambodia’s national bird. It is considered critically endangered, with its population increasing and decreasing every year, he said.
His photography work has showed him how lack of education and law enforcement makes the problem worse.
Hunting is at the root of Cambodian culture, he said. But he notes that centuries ago, there were more animals and less people. Educating Cambodians about the need for saving natural resources is very important to Suy Senglim.
“Education is very limited,” he said. “And in terms of legal enforcement, only one organization is standing out, and that is the Wildlife Alliance.” He noted that the group has carried out a number of successful crackdowns against hunting. But there are few major campaigns on wildlife hunting, as a whole, he said.
Chhit Sam Ath is executive director of the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF office in Cambodia. The group works to protect wildlife and their habitats around the world. Chhit Sam Ath said land sales and development are partly responsible for a sharp drop in the number of trees. Forests are home to many bird species.
Protected areas within forests have disappeared at the same rate as forests in other parts of the country. The environmental protection group Fauna and Flora International says poaching and hunting have led to loss of animal and plant species in Cambodia.
Between 2001 and 2014, the yearly rate of forest loss in Cambodia was the highest in the world, the group said. The rate increased 14.4 percent during that period. Flora and Fauna International noted almost 60 percent of the country was forested in 2009. But it fell to 48 percent by 2014.
Recently, Prime Minister Hun Sen approved an increase in the number of rangers to guard forests and parks, Chhit Sam Ath noted. The increased security is part of an effort to stop poaching and destruction of forests.
But like Suy Senglim, the World Wildlife Fund official said lack of education about wildlife leads to careless hunting by people. He also called for an end to the wild meat trade.
I think we should improve education among the people to make them understand more and love wildlife, Chhit Sam Ath said. “I want to call on the people that it is time to help protect the wildlife in our nation.”
Chantha Nasak is a wildlife expert with Fauna and Flora International. He said the group is still carrying out a study of endangered and non-endangered species in Cambodia. But without the right protections, the wildlife face great risks.
Through research by non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and other groups, we have recorded a huge number of wildlife in Cambodia, he said. “The number of endangered species, such as elephants, can face further decreases if there are no [protective] measures taken.”
To Chantha Nasak, damage to wildlife habitats is the main reason for the decrease in the number of wild animals. He said destruction of forests and use of land for agricultural and other purposes are the biggest threats, as well as climate change.
However, there are already agreements between some NGOs and the Cambodian government to help wild species. Also, Chantha Nasak said some communities are working together to protect wildlife around the country.
“All Cambodian citizens should join hands in the protection of wildlife, not just the NGOs and the government,” he said. “It should be everyone.”
Suy Senglim is working on a book on 100 bird species from among the 400 species he has photographed. He hopes to publish the book in early 2018. He says he looks forward to teaching in high schools and colleges to influence a new generation of nature-lovers.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Nem Sopheakpanha reported on this for VOANews.com. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
We want to hear from you. What efforts to protect the environment are happening in your country? How does your country try to protect endangered plants and animals? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
species - n. a group of related animals or plants that is smaller than a genus
habitat - n. the place or type of place where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives or grows
poach - v. to hunt or fish illegally; to catch or kill an animal illegally
crackdown - n. an increased effort to enforce a law or rule
ranger - n. a person in charge of managing and protecting part of a public forest
elephant - n. a very large gray animal that has a long, flexible nose and two long tusks