A project to relocate endangered crocodiles away from the threat of a planned dam in Koh Kong province has met with stiff resistance from a coalition of NGOs that say villagers to whom the reptiles are sacred were not consulted about the move.
The Cambodian Youth Network and the Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community sent a letter on Monday to Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Forestry Administration demanding they immediately return a captured Siamese crocodile and cease all relocation activities.
In February, FFI announced a project in collaboration with the Forestry Administration to relocate some 30 to 40 Siamese Crocodiles from Areng to a location 70 kilometres away.
FFI hope to save the crocs from the threat of extinction due to the planned Cheay Areng dam. But though there are signs the dam could go ahead as soon as July, it has not received a final green light and villagers are still holding out hopes to stop it in favour of an eco-tourism scheme.
Theng Savoeun, director of the Federation of Cambodia Farmer Organizations, said yesterday that Khmer Daeum minority villagers in the area revered the crocodiles as “holy guardians”.
“People in the area have removed traps, nets and other materials set by FFI near all holy ponds in order to reduce the risk, because one day after FFI caught one crocodile from the pond, we saw one dead crocodile,” he said.
Sarah Brook, species manager for FFI’s Cambodia program, said in an email yesterday that police, Forestry Administration staff, and a commune chief who is also a village representative had been consulted about the project.
“All gave their support to the relocation work and requested that they help us with this work,” she said, adding that the traps they used were non-lethal and were not set in the area where the dead crocodile had been found.
The Cheay Areng dam is set to flood 20,000 hectares of largely evergreen forest and force hundreds of families to relocate if it is given the go ahead.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE