Efforts Launched to Preserve Cardamoms ‘Elephant Corridor’

Forestry officials and the conservation NGO WildAid on Wednes­day kicked off an effort to protect an “elephant corridor” in the Car­damom Mountains in southwest Cambodia, which is one of the last remaining natural forests in Asia.

WildAid director Suwanna Gauntlett pledged $2 million over three years to protect 158,000 hec­tares of the southern Carda­mom Mountains if the government is­sued a subdecree this year declaring the area a protected forest.

At a workshop on Wednesday, provincial governors and development and wildlife officials discussed how best to protect the area. They also reviewed a new study finding evidence of 110 elephants in the area, as well as oth­er rare animals such as pileated gib­bons, Siamese crocodiles and the silver langur.

The study, though funded by US-based WildAid, is the first to be carried out exclusively by government foresters without foreign ad­visers. Conference attendees fa­mil­iar with the Cardamoms said they had not had a chance to read the study carefully, but expressed sup­port for the proposal.

“No doubt areas within the proposed [elephant corridor] are very important for conservation,” said Richard Paley of Flora and Fauna International, which surveys wildlife elsewhere in the Cardamoms. “For elephants alone it’s absolutely critical.”

“It’s more evidence of the conservation value of the southwest, and that can only help us,” said David Mead, country representative of Conservation International, which helps protect parts of the Car­damoms. “It may lead to a wider protection zone.”

In opening remarks, forestry department chief Ty Sokhun ex­pressed support for the area. He said Cambodia had 29 protected areas covering 4.5 million hec­tares, or one-quarter of the country’s land mass. The Central Car­da­­moms is the second largest, covering 401,000 hectares. The biggest is in Mondolkiri, at 429,000 hectares.

The central portion of the 1 million hectare Cardamoms has been pro­tected since last year. In June, the government canceled Grand Atlantic Timber’s logging concession in the Central Car­damoms.

In May, the government canceled the concession of Vuthy Pear­nick in the southern Carda­moms. Forestry observers said the company was bankrupt.

WildAid and forestry officials plan to ask the government to pro­tect the area rather than hand it to another logging company. The area links several other sanctuaries: The protected Central Cardamoms to the north; Phnom Samkos wildlife sanctuary to the west; Phnom Oral wildlife sanctuary to the East; and the Botum Sa­kor national park to the south.

The new protected area would allow elephants to migrate from Botum Sakor to the high country of the central Cardamoms, said Hunter Weiler of the Cat Action Treasury conservation NGO. The Central and Southern Carda­moms comprise one of the last re­maining elephant migration routes in Asia, the study said.

Many residents in the area harm the environment through their livelihoods but are not aware they are doing so, the study said. Most of the nearly 9,000 residents in the area practice slash-and-burn agriculture, destroying hundreds of hectares of forest each month. The forest destruction leads to erosion, damaging waterways.

Local residents also poach and sell endangered wildlife, and the construction of Route 48 has made it easier for poaching rings to infiltrate the area, the study found.

WildAid is proposing to help pay for government forest patrols to stop poaching and burning. The study proposes relocating villagers living in sensitive areas to three new villages, where Wild­Aid will construct a school and health center and provide credits to help villagers switch to conventional agriculture.

Gauntlett said the forestry de­partment and WildAid would propose the subdecree to the Coun­cil of Ministers in a week, if conference attendees agree.

(Addi­tion­al reporting by Van Roeun)

 

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