Conservationists Target Little-Known Habitats

Biologists this week identified a number of conservation priorities for Cambodia, ranging from studying little-known habitats to working to protect a recently-discovered grassland bird colony of possible global significance.

The informal list of priorities came Friday at the conclusion of a four-day workshop in Phnom Penh on conservation in the lower Mekong region, which encompasses most of Laos and Vietnam, and all of Cambodia.

Jack Hurd, country representative for World Wide Fund for Nature, a sponsor of the workshop, noted the forum brought about 75 biologists from different disciplines together to discuss where conservation needs to go in the future and how it fits into a bigger socio-economic picture.

In his closing remarks, Chan Sarun, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, characterized the workshop as an important first step in conservation planning and one that would help lead to good land-use decisions.

Wildlife trading was described as perhaps the biggest threat. To illustrate the scope of the problem, one participant noted that Yunnan provincial officials in China recently confiscated 16,000 live animals suspected to have been imported from the region.

Biologist Maurice Kottelat used an analogy to describe why the Mekong and the Tonle Sap are important to protect from beginning to end. Like a railway with stations at both ends, “it’s not just the five kilometers in the middle” that are critical, he said.

While the conference didn’t result in an action plan, a sub-group came up with a number of areas in Cambodia that warrant attention. Those include:

• Habitats in southeast Cam­bodia. Across the border, Viet­nam plans to convert grassy wetlands to farms, possible threatening a crane habitat there, said Joe Walston, research coordinator in Cambodia for the Wildlife Cons­ervation Society, who delivered the group’s report.

• A mixed-evergreen forest stretching across parts of Preah Vihear, Kompong Thom, Stung Treng and Kratie provinces.

• An area in Kompong Thom province, where a large population of grassland, long-legged birds called Bengal floricans recently were found of possible global significance. “Immediate conservation programs with the local community need to be started within the year,” Walston said.

• Bokor National Park, where there have been recent reports of wholesale extraction of a thick yellow vine for sale in Vietnam.

• The flooded forest area around the Tonle Sap. The group recommended more surveys of water birds, crocodiles and other animals.

• Rivers such as the Se San in the northeast, which may be threatened by dams upstream.



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