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Rare Giant Ibis loses habitat

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A critically endangered Giant Ibis in the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in February.

When they come to develop and make a lot of noise, [the animals] will run away or fly to another place

The latest in a series of land concessions granted in protected forests has cut nearly 10,000 hectares from Cambodia’s largest wildlife sanctuary – home to the Kingdom’s critically endangered national bird, the Giant Ibis.

A September 7 sub-decree, released on Monday evening, reclassified 9,237 hectares of land for private agro-industrial development by Cambodian Dawn Plantation Ltd in a section of the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province. It follows the reclassification of 28,270 hectares of the 402,500-hectare sanctuary that spans Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey provinces in July.

Another 9,160 hectare area in Mondulkiri’s Phnom Pich Wildlife Sanctuary was also reclassified in a September 7 sub-decree for development by the Kasekam Khmer Angkor Co.

Pol Kham Narei, director of the Preah Vihear provincial Forestry Administration, conceded yesterday that development in the sanctuary would displace animals within it.

“The birds and animals need to live in the forest and in a quiet place, so when they come to develop and make a lot of noise, [the animals] will run away or fly to another place,” he said, while defending the government’s need to promote development projects.

Conservationists estimate that about 91 per cent of the world’s remaining population of Giant Ibis’s live in Cambodia, with about 41 per cent of those found in the Northern Plains, where Kulen Promtep is located. It is also home to a vast array of other water birds including the world’s tallest flying bird, the Sarus Crane, as well as endangered Asian Elephants, Eld’s deer and a species of wild cattle called Banteng.

Echoing government responses to almost every land concession granted in protected forests this year, Preah Vihear provincial environment department director, Khoy Khoun Chan Roth, claimed the environment would not be affected as the concession area had already been degraded.

“This is to provide land to the private company to develop and grow the country’s economy and can also protect the forest from the anarchy of people who come to destroy the trees,” he said.

Yem Louch, deputy governor for Mondulkiri, said that the government had a right to grant concessions where they saw fit provided the economic benefits outweighed minor environmental damage.

But Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said somebody in the government had to take responsibility for protected forest areas that became degraded.

“Who should be held to account, what happens to the provincial governors, why don’t they know about this? You have people [officials] saying this concession’s okay now because the forest has been destroyed under my watch,” he said.  

The government appeared to have “lost control” of the amount of land it was cutting from protected forest areas, primarily for companies intending to log, and was inviting an environmental “disaster” given the escalating effects of climate change, he added.

Preah Vihear provincial governor Om Mara could not be reached for comment yesterday. Neither development company could be reached for comment.

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