CEO Veronique Audibert Pestel

Veronique Audibert P is the founder of “POH KAO des Tigres et des Hommes”, a French Conservation NGO that she dedicated first to Cambodian Tigers Protection (2006). She makes this decision after shooting a documentary entitled “Klah Thom, the last Cambodian tiger”, a investigation on tigers’ poaching and trading in Cambodia (2000). Her first immersion (1997) in the intact rainforest of the North East goes back to the time when the Khmer Rouge were still active in these remote annamites mountains and when about sixty tigers were roaming in the Veun Sai Forests.

From 2007 to 2016 she designed and conducted three consecutive phases of conservation projects until the obtention of the Status of National Park for Veun Sai Siem Pang Hotspot, by the Prime Minister of Cambodia (2016). She selected a local NGO (NTFP) based in N.E of Cambodia to become the first local conservation NGO based in the province.

In 2015, she initiated the creation of a Union of local NGOs to investigate illegal logging in NE Cambodia. As result, a video and report was published “Logs and Patronage, systematic illegal logging in State Forests in Ratanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces- N-E Cambodia”. The local investigator Mr Ouch Leng win the Goldman Prize (Washington 2016).

 

Excerpt from the interview conducted by Brigitte Gaillot, Fondation Ensemble.

FE: Twenty years ago you discovered the pristine Cambodian forests, untouched by any human presence. A shock ?
VA: An incredible opportunity. In 1997, I was investigating tiger traffic in the north-east of the country. It is difficult to describe the impression given by the experience of being in a forest absolutely devoid of human destruction. What we feel is very strong. We feel that man has no place, that he is very small, as reconnected to the great work, to the cosmos, as if our genes had kept the memory of thousands of years of evolution, that we were made to walk, eat, sleep together, welded. I have never managed to describe this feeling so strong, to leave the anthropocentric world of men, to enter a wider world. To wake up to the chants of the singing of the gibbons, and to put your foot in the track of a tiger, frankly it is unheard of.

FE: That’s when you found Poh Kao. What did you have in mind?
VA: My numerous expeditions led by hunter-gatherers of ethnic minorities have brought me into their universe of humans living in total biodiversity. They are the ones who taught me how to live totally integrated, to be predators in the same rank as the tiger, the leopard, to take only what is necessary. I owe them to know how to read a landscape. What they gave me is priceless. During a mission in 2005, there were more than 300 people in front of my hut, who asked me to help them. It seemed to me obvious.


FE: When you discover Cambodia 20 years ago, 800 tigers remain in the wild. What about today ?
VA: There is unfortunately no trace. It’s an absolute disaster! And beyond the tiger, all the biodiversity of this country has collapsed. Look at the map of the evolution of forest areas in Cambodia. 60% of forest have already disappeared! I am often asked if it is too late to save the planet. But it’s forgetting that she does not need us. We need her! At this rate, the planet alone will survive.

FE: You have founded since Poh Kao. In the local dialect what does it mean?
VE: Literally: rice, together, eat. I like it to be so linked in the same word. Our approach integrates all these elements. These people have understood everything. They know what they owe to nature, live in symbiosis with it. In these hotspots of biodiversity, they are our precious guardians of life. Believe me, they have a lot to teach us about their relationship to the environment and are in many ways ahead of us.

FE: What are your main difficulties?
VA: Biodiversity is of little interest and is slow to find funding that matches its stakes. At the head of a small structure, I find it very difficult to raise sufficient funds. Donors are few compare to the needs and long-term grants nonexistent for small organization like ours. We have to fight on both sides, permanent search for funding and difficult field work. This is extremely unfortunate because, in the field, we have valuable data and knowledge, real skills.
FE: What is your courage?
VA: “Never give up! ” ! This may be a particularity of women.

FE: Are we entering the last chapter of the history of biodiversity?
VA: We are fortunate to have a science that progresses quickly and warns us of future scenarios. What are our leaders waiting for to take the necessary measures? It is to wonder, like Theodore Monod if the man deserves his denomination of homosapiens. Fortunately, the rising generation seem to me more aware of the issues. They will undoubtedly take over tomorrow. But by then, how many massacres, irreparable disappearance of wildlife and habitats.

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