Fire Ravages Flooded Forest in Battambang

A massive fire in a Battambang province flooded forest may have been caused by poachers hunting for tortoises, government wildlife agents said Monday.

An estimated 18 sq km of flooded forest was destroyed in the fire last month, killing tortoises and decimating vital wildlife habitat, the officials reported. The blaze destroyed forest in two fishing lots in Ek Phnom district.

Ek Phnom District Governor Toch Sunnara said Monday that officials were still looking into the cause of the blaze. He said burning forests to catch tortoises is a destructive hunting practice that is detrimental to other wildlife.

Some officials said that burning flooded forests to catch tortoises is a common practice among poachers. The practice has been banned because of the destruction it leaves behind, said Tat Bun­choeun, Siem Reap Agriculture De­partment director.

Flooded forests are in decline already due to land-clearing for new farms, according to Tat Bunchoeun, who said some measures have been taken to stem the loss of forested land.

Kompong Thom Agriculture Department Director En Theay said that clearing parts of the flooded forest to expand farming areas is prohibited.

The farmers sometimes leave the land to reforest when the yields are low, as happened in about 40,000 hectares of farms last year, he said.

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