Phnom Penh, Feb. 2, 2018 -- The following statement was released by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) concerning the murder of three conservation heroes in Cambodia on 30th January 2018.


Ken Serey Rotha, Country Program Director of WCS Cambodia, said:


"At WCS, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and relatives of our three conservation heroes, Teurn Soknai, Ministry of Environment Ranger; Sek Wathana, Military Police Officer; and Thul Khna, WCS SMART Officer, killed on January 30th in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary (KSWS) while they were patrolling forest near the Cambodia-Vietnam border.


"Soknai, 37, Wathana, 34, and Khna, 24, were killed when returning from the O’huoc border area after locating an illegal logging camp and confiscating chainsaws and motorbikes used for transporting wood.


“Soknai was from the local Bunong Indigenous Community, he lived all of his life in Pu Cham village, O’riang District in Mondulkiri Province. He grew up surrounded by nature and wildlife and from a young age was aware of the importance of forests and excited by wildlife and conservation. After gaining a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management from National University of Management, Cambodia, he worked for WCS as an assistant to the ecotourism project in KSWS for four years. As part of that role he developed the Jahoo Gibbon Camp near Andong Kralong village, at which tourists stay and bring extra income to this indigenous community. Jahoo is the Bunong word for female gibbon, a species that Soknai was passionate and knowledgeable about, frequently enthralling visitors with Bunong stories about the animal. He joined the Ministry of Environment (MoE) to become a ranger in mid-2017 because he saw what was happening to the forest that he loved and wanted to protect it. Soknai was well-regarded in his village, and respected by colleagues and visitors because his passion for nature was clear for all to see. He is survived by a wife and two daughters of one and four years.


“Wathana, survived by his wife and daughters of two and five years, was born in Phnom Penh. After graduating from university he took a job at the Military Police as an Officer. In 2016, he was moved to Keo Seima, and since 2017 he worked as a WCS counterpart and patrol team member. There he worked on the inter-agency patrol team with MoE rangers and the community patrol team, to protect the forest of KSWS. He was a hard-working and respected team member and will be missed by those who worked with him and knew him well.


“Khna grew up in Pen Meas, a rural village of rice farmers in Somroung Commune, Tramkork District, Takeo Province. He was the first member of his family to go to university, and graduated from the Royal University of Agriculture a bachelor’s degree in Forestry Science in 2016. He then went to Israel on a scholarship for 10 months to study GIS (Geographic Information System). Khna joined WCS in 2017, as part of the GIS and SMART (Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool) team at WCS. He loved being part of this dynamic, young team exploring new ways of using spatial data for conservation. Part of his work involved improving the quality of monitoring data gathered by field teams, which he accompanied to the forest. Despite only being with WCS for less than a year, he was a popular member of the team and will never be forgotten. He is survived by his wife and one daughter of two and a half months.


“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleagues. In their honor and to honor all those who day in and day out work to protect the forests and wildlife of Cambodia, we will continue to support our government and community partners in their efforts to stop land encroachment, illegal logging and poaching, and to bring the murderers to justice.


"Every day, rangers and law enforcement staff risk their lives to protect wildlife and forests. We should not allow criminals to destroy the forests of Cambodia and to threaten and murder those working tirelessly to protect this country's natural heritage. Soknai, Wathana, and Khna will always be remembered as conservation heroes."