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Bokor: some good news at last

Bokor: some good news at last

A DANISH NGO which has just completed a survey of Bokor National Park says that there

has been a dramatic reduction in logging in the south of the park since the beginning

of this year - but that unless the government ploughs more money into the protected

site, there could easily be a reversal of fortune.

Dr Jan Peterfeil, Managing Director of Forest Ecology for the NGO Nepenthes, who

spent two weeks surveying the site, said he had delivered a report to the Minstry

of Environment detailing reccommendations for the park's protection.

Top of the list includes the provision of more support for the park's 12 rangers,

who, despite salaries of only 50,000 riel a month and little support from the authorities,

have proven dedicated to protecting the park.

"It's quite dangerous for them," said Peterfeil. "They're in a kind

of no-man's-land up there, with little radio contact, and there are still people

logging illegally in the north of the park. We even heard rumors that there was a

price on the head of some of the rangers. But they're still doing a really impressive

job."

Peterfeil said logs had stopped coming out of the two southern checkpoints in the

park since the beginning of the year. In 1998, when Nepenthes conducted their first

survey, the number of logs had reached a maximum of nine a day - a rate that would

have decimated the park in a matter of years.

"We found that the tree growth rate is very slow in Bokor, which is partly to

do with the elevation of the land," Peterfeil said. Some of the trees that have

a diameter of just 40cm have been estimated by the NGO to be up to 200 years old.

"Removing just a small amount of timber influences the delicate balance of the

ecosystem," he said, noting that due to Bokor's proximity to the sea and steep

incline, a unique ecosystem has evolved, which "certainly contains rare species".

The study even uncovered a three-toed footprint which, according to Peterfeil, appears

to be that of either a tapir or rhinoceros. "There could be some really nice

surprises up there," he said. No detailed surveys have been done of the area

for decades.

But the report was not all good news. The area monitored comprises only 20 percent

of the national park; Peterfeil said he was sure that logs were still being taken

out of the forest from the north, where access is tricky and remote areas are controlled

by the military.

"We want to create a long-term plan - 10 or 20 years - for some kind of sustainable

development for the park," said Peterfeil, "but until we see that the whole

area is under control, we cannot talk about what kind of form the project would take."

Bokor is also a rich source for non-timber products, including resin, used to waterproof

boats, fruit trees, Chan Kresna, a kind of wood used for fragrances, medicinal plants,

and rattans used to make handicrafts. All these would come under threat from any

further logging of the site.

Peterfeil said he would be fundraising for the protected site back in Denmark, and

would be returning in just over a year's time to conduct a follow-up survey.

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