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Cambodian government creates 1,000,000-acre protected area


Cardamom Mountains former home to Khmer Rouge

The Cambodian government announced today the creation of the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest, a 1,000,000-acre (402,000-hectare) area in southwestern Cambodia’s Central Cardamom Mountains. The Cardamoms are home to most of Cambodia’s large mammals and half of the country’s birds, reptiles and amphibians. Two wildlife sanctuaries border the area, bringing the total land under protection to 2.44 million acres (990,000 hectares), forming the largest, most pristine wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia.

The protected area was officially signed into law by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The declaration allows for the permanent protection of the Cardamoms. Government rangers, military police and community monitors are patrolling and enforcing forest and wildlife laws within the area.

"This is a huge step forward for the protection of our country’s amazing array of life," said Ty Sokhun, Director General of Cambodia’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife. "Animals found virtually nowhere else in the world can thrive freely in our forests."

The Cardamom Mountains are a high priority for conservationists. Rare species such as the Indochinese tiger, the Asian elephant and the Malaysian sun bear survive there, as do globally threatened species such as the pileated gibbon and the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, which has its only known wild breeding population in the Cardamoms.

The Cardamoms were a last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge until its collapse in 1998. As a result of its low population density and isolation, the Cardamoms appear to have retained viable populations of the region’s most rare and endangered animals, while most of mainland Southeast Asia has been severely deforested and has seen its wildlife hunted to near-extinction.

Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund (GCF), which has been financing work in the Cardamoms for more than a year, is providing the financial support for the protection and management of the Cardamoms. Major funding is also being provided by the United Nations Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Further support is being provided by the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility. Conservation International’s Cambodia country program is advising the government on protected area management, as well as training, patrolling and intelligence gathering.

Until recently, the Cardamoms were slated for logging. But in January 2001, CI secured a deal with the Cambodian government to ban commercial logging in the Cardamoms while it worked with the Department of Forestry and Wildlife to justify the area’s permanent protection.

"This is an excellent example of how the conservation movement is supposed to work," said Peter Seligmann, Chairman and CEO of Conservation International. "CI has been on-the-ground in Cambodia working in alliances with other environmental groups, government agencies and local people. It adds up to be great news for Cambodia’s biodiversity and the Cambodian people." Many of Cambodia’s largest rivers flow from the Cardamoms. Protection of this watershed will reduce flooding downstream. Floods caused damage estimated at $156 million in 2000, when the country experienced the worst flooding in 70 years.

Still, there are severe threats to the Cardamoms. Wildlife trade thrives on the streets of Phnom Penh, where the skins and body parts of bears, elephants and crocodiles, among others, are for sale. Many of these products are smuggled to neighboring countries, where they are used for traditional medicine.

"The government’s decision to declare the Cardamoms a protected area demonstrates a clear, long-term vision for Cambodia’s future," said David Mead, CI-Cambodia’s Country Representative. "The government has shown strong environmental leadership, opened the door to long-term international support for wildlife protection and ecotourism and has honored a promise made two years ago to conserve the Cardamoms."

CI will continue to work with the Cambodian government and NGO partners to encourage the creation of an even larger conservation corridor, which would connect the Cardamoms to the coast, ensuring the protection of seasonal elephant migration routes. The Cardamoms are part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, one of 25 global hotspots that represent only 1.4 percent of the Earth’s landmass but are home to more than 60 percent of all terrestrial species.

"The Cardamom Mountains are a treasure trove of wildlife and an important watershed for Cambodia. We are proud that UN Foundation’s partnership with UNDP, Conservation International and Flora and Fauna International has helped make it possible for the Cambodian government to protect this area of immense biodiversity," said Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation. "This is a vital first step towards declaring the Cardamom Mountains area a World Heritage site which will result in greater international recognition and increased resources for this park."

Fauna and Flora International is assisting the government with the management and protection of the two wildlife sanctuaries bordering the Central Cardamoms. The 825,000-acre (334,000-hectare) Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is west of the Central Cardamom Mountains; the 627,000-acre (254,000-hectare) Mt. Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is to the east.

Conservation International (CI) is an environmental organization working in more than 30 countries worldwide to protect biodiversity and to demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. CI develops scientific, policy and economic solutions to protect threatened natural ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity. Read more about CI at

The United Nations Foundation promotes a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world through the support of the United Nations and its Charter. Through its grant-making and by building new and innovative public-private partnerships, the United Nations Foundation acts to meet the most pressing health, humanitarian, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

The Global Conservation Fund (GCF) is the first fund of its kind in the world, with a pool of ready cash available for creating and expanding protected areas with high concentrations of unique biodiversity. The GCF became possible as a result of a $100 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Brad Phillips | EurekAlert!
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