Bird Sanctuary Considered for Eco-Tourism

A bird sanctuary near Siem Reap could become the country’s second most-important tourism site after Angkor Wat, a tourism in­dustry leader said Tuesday.

But the sanctuary at Prek Toal is in danger of destruction if the government does not step in to protect it, said Moeung Sonn, president of the National Associa­tion of Tourism Enterprises, a tra­vel agency group.

The sanctuary harbors 225 species of birds, affords spectacular views of the Tonle Sap lake at sunrise and sunset and offers a glimpse of life in a floating village, Moeung Sonn said.

The site now gets occasional vi­sits from tourists willing to take a two-hour ride from Siem Reap by motorboat. But they must receive special permission from the fishing-lot owner in the area, he said.

On Tuesday Moeung Sonn said he was willing to buy the lot himself from the government for the 4 million riel (about $1,000) for which it was last sold. He would ban fishing at the site and in­stead host tourists.

“I can spend my own money in­stead of the lot owner. I want to keep all the birds for the tourists to see. I think we can collect more money than if we continue selling it to private people.”

The bird population is decli­ning because of a thriving trade in bird eggs, which villagers trade across the Thai border, Moeung Sonn said. Villagers also poison birds to kill and eat them, he said.

Additionally, the birds are de­prived of water as fishermen drain off diked portions of the lake to catch fish, he said.

The average tourist in Siem Reap now spends $60 to $100 per day, Moeung Sonn said. If Prek Toal was developed, visitors might spend an extra night at the village and spend that much more money, he said.

“I think villagers will make money from small boat rentals,” he said.

The sanctuary was designated a biosphere preserve by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cul­tur­al Organization in 1997.

As the area moves to eco-tour­ism, villagers should be trained for careers in conservation and tourism hospitality so that they will not engage in activities that de­grade the environment, said Lim Solinn in a bachelor’s thesis on the sanctuary for the Royal Uni­versity of Phnom Penh’s sociology department.

Minister of Tourism Veng Se­rey­vuth said his ministry and the Ministry of Environment are looking at potential eco-tourism sites on the Tonle Sap. But the Prek Toal site will require further development before it can handle large numbers of tourists, the minister said.

“We want [Prek Toal] to be a site for eco-tourism, naturally. But it may need time, and a lot of things need to be done in that ar­ea before tourists arrive,” he said.


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