Few countries have suffered such severe deforestation over the past two decades as Cambodia, a land once covered with expansive woodlands that were home to Indochinese tigers, elephants, and scores of endemic plant and animal species. Satellite surveys show that only 3 percent of Cambodia’s primary forest remains as thousands of square miles have been lost to logging of rosewood and other tropical hardwoods, coupled with clearing to make way for rubber plantations and agricultural projects. Driving this destruction are unscrupulous businesses and black marketeers who have reportedly paid millions of dollars in bribes to Cambodian politicians, police, and military officers.
Much of the deforestation has taken place in parks and other supposedly protected areas, such as the Prey Lang Forest in northern Cambodia. As Cambodian and foreign companies have moved into these reserves, Indigenous people have been driven out, their forest-based livelihoods destroyed.
Earlier this year, Beijing-based photojournalist Sean Gallagher visited Cambodia to document the continuing destruction of the country’s few remaining areas of intact forest, including Prey Lang, one of Southeast Asia’s last lowland evergreen woodlands. Gallagher photographed members of the Prey Lang Community Rangers, a group of farmers and Indigenous people patrolling the 1,400-square-mile wildlife sanctuary in an effort to prevent illegal clearing of the forest. It’s dangerous work — in 2018, three forest defenders were shot and killed in another Cambodian wildlife sanctuary after seizing equipment from illegal loggers.
Click through the below slideshow to see Gallagher’s images.
A member of the Prey Lang Community Rangers alongside a truck hauling timber from a protected forest area. Rangers do not have the authority to confiscate illegally harvested logs, but they monitor and report on such activity. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
A freshly cut tree near the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Cambodia. The Southeast Asian nation has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world. Forest clearance is fueled by demand for agricultural land and high-value tree species for the Asian furniture market. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
A Cambodian environmental ranger on patrol looking for illegal loggers in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok sanctuary. Some rangers hide their identity out of fear of reprisals from loggers and their allies in the police and military. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
Aerial view of cut trees in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
Members of the Prey Lang Community Rangers monitoring illegal logging. Prey Lang is one of Asia's last remaining lowland evergreen woodlands. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
Chainsaws confiscated from loggers in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
Confiscated rosewood in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary. The trade in rosewood, prized for high-end furniture in China, is outlawed througout the world, but a network of corrupt Cambodian businessmen and officials is engaged in a lucrative, black-market rosewood trade. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
A Malaysian-run logging operation in the ostensibly protected Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. The government has sold concessions to national and international companies, giving them permission to clear the “protected” forests of Cambodia. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
A worker at the Chup Rubber Plantation in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Cambodia exported 282,071 tons of rubber last year, mainly to China, Singapore, and Malaysia, bringing in earnings of $377 million. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
A cashew nut plantation in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary. Most of the sanctuary’s land has been sold by the government for agricultural concessions. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
A burning field in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Beng Per is a sanctuary in name only as most of the land has been sold by the government for agricultural concessions and rubber plantations. Image by Sean Gallagher. Cambodia, 2020.
Photographer Sean Gallagher traveled to Cambodia in early 2020 to document the devastation of that nation's forests. In an e360 photo essay, he shows how timber and agribusiness companies are ravaging lands that are supposedly protected and how Indigenous people are trying to stop the destruction.