More than 30,000 hectares have been set aside in Kompong Thom province to protect an endangered bird and grassland environment threatened by encroaching farmland, officials said Sunday.
The land was set aside as part of an agreement between provincial and district authorities and the environmental group Wildlife Conservation Society to protect the Bengal Florican, while still allowing villagers to make a living.
“We have to preserve the birds, but we must allow the land to be farmed,” said Stong district governor Ang Ky.
A survey conducted this year by the society and Birdlife International shows that grasslands around Tonle Sap lake—which floods during the rainy season—is home to the world’s largest population of the Bengal Florican.
There now are fewer than 1,500 of these black and white birds left in the wild, said Joe Walston, research coordinator for the society. The Tonle Sap grasslands, he said, “represent the last hope for the species.”
The goal of the agreement was not to set up a traditional protected area like a national park or wildlife reserve, but to create an “integrated farming and biodiversity area,” Walston said.
The main threat to the grassland is not the villagers who plant rice in the dry season but wealthy individuals seeking to reclaim large tracts of land by damming areas off, he said.
Provincial Governor Nam Tum agreed that the new designation for the area would not affect farming, adding that it will become effective in March when the area dries out.
The Tonle Sap grasslands provide refuge for several of Southeast Asia’s endangered waterfowl, eagles and smaller migratory birds, Walston said. The society is negotiating with local authorities to set up similar grassland zones in Siem Reap and Kompong Chhnang provinces.