Hundreds of Cambodians from several villages converged on rice paddies in the wildlife refuge of Banteay Meanchey last week to harvest rice allocated to feed endangered cranes, provincial officials said.
Around 300 villagers from Preah Netpreah, Thmar Puok and Svay Chek districts harvested dozens of hectares of rice paddies reserved for cranes and other bird species, said provincial second deputy governor Nhiek Kim Chhon.
Nhan Bunthorn, program officer of Trapaing Thmar Conservation Reservoir, said Thursday the villagers harvested about 35 of 176 hectares of rice paddies reserved for rare birds. The villagers were confused by which land was rightfully theirs, since they had farmed the same area in previous years.
An estimated 300 hectares of land within the crane sanctuary have been cleared by villagers for farms since 1998, but agriculture officials recently seized 176 hectares of the land to create an endangered bird sanctuary.
Since officials could not afford to plant crops this year, an agreement was established with Phnom Srok district authorities allowing authorities to cultivate birds’ fodder on the land for one year and consume any leftover rice.
Villagers became confused and frustrated when their land was removed for authorized use only.
The problem was solved last Monday, as authorities asked villagers not to harvest the protected rice and said that the land was allocated to feed protected bird species, Nhan Bunthorn said.
In recent years, local villagers were encouraged by traders to hunt the cranes for food and sale in the border town of Poipet. One crane could bring up to $20. But in 1999, officials sought to protect the endangered Eastern Sarus Crane and more than 30 other rare bird species in Banteay Meanchey province.
Wildlife experts estimated in 2001 that less than 1,500 of the cranes were in existence. Officials have spotted an estimated 400 cranes in Cambodia.
The rare birds live on the Trapaing Thmoor reservoir, which was built through forced labor during the Khmer Rouge regime.