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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Schoolkids to gain from eco books

Schoolkids to gain from eco books

Save Cambodia's Wildlife (SCW), an environmental NGO, has announced it will distribute

a landmark series of environmental books to every primary student in the country

over the next four years.

"Children are really enthusiastic about the books," said SCW director Lim

Solinn. "To them it's the highest quality publication they've ever seen."

She said the seven-part series, which will be completed later this year with the

publication of The Long Journey of the Giant Catfish, will give students in more

than 5,000 primary schools and "non-formal" education programs their first

glimpse at an environment textbook. She added that many schools were starved for

reading material, as they were unable to afford new books.

The richly illustrated stories examine the country's wildlife, and teach environmental

conservation by appealing to Buddhist principles and values regarding nature. In

the series' first book, A Walk through the Forest, a young monk wanders through Cambodia's

provinces to sanctify the trees.

"I bless this forest because it keeps the air clean and fresh with its million

leaves that breathe," he tells the reader. "The forests and wildlife make

the world a good place for our people to live in."

Besides preaching an environmental ethic, the books aid in literacy education since

the stories are written in both Khmer and English. Others in the series include Tiger!

Tiger! Why Do You Hide?, The Little White Elephant and Endangered Species of Cambodia.

About 800,000 books will be distributed, with funding provided by Danish, UK and

US aid agencies.

The project dovetails with another SCW initiative to mount a nationwide public education

campaign. That is part of a long-term effort by the NGO to change behavior and attitudes

toward the environment.

Under the project, villagers will get the chance to join in workshops that explain

environmental laws and access rights for natural resources. A trial program will

run in five provinces throughout this year, and will expand further in 2004.

SCW hopes this two-pronged approach to conservation will prevent the extinction of

some the country's wildlife. One species at risk is the highly endangered Mekong

Giant Catfish, which provided the inspiration for SCW's latest book.

Its plight has attracted international attention. Zeb Hogan, from the University

of California, Davis, and his Khmer colleagues have spent the past two years studying

the Giant Catfish, which can reach 250 kilograms. The group scoured the Mekong and

Tonle Sap rivers listening for the sounds of acoustic tags attached to fish swimming

down the Tonle Sap River.

The team tracked one fish from the Tonle Sap, into the Mekong River as it swam to

its spawning grounds north of the Cambodian border.

Hogan said the number of

Giant Catfish caught in the Tonle Sap river had reached an all-time low. Only five

were captured in 2002, compared to a dozen only two years ago. Hogan is concerned

that the fish could go the way of its cousins in Thailand, where it was once common

but now seems to have disappeared.

He said dams, dredging and diversion projects in the Mekong River Basin had altered

parts of the river's ecology, although it was still unclear exactly what such changes

would mean for the future of the Giant Catfish.

"No one understands much about fish ecology in the Mekong," he said.

Hogan's current project has tried to learn more about the

Giant Catfish by using plastic tags to track its migration, as well as the journeys

of smaller catfish and other species. It also buys the critically endangered species

from fishermen in order to release them.

"Basically, we're working with the community fishery sector purchasing the rights

to endangered species," Hogan explained. "The Giant Catfish is so highly

endangered that no matter what our budget we would buy the fish."

But Hogan predicts only a handful of the Giant Catfish will be tagged and released

by the end of this migration season in March.

"At this point it's just about getting information to people with more influence

than I do," he said.

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