Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cardamoms 'one of the crown jewels of global

Cardamoms 'one of the crown jewels of global

Cardamoms 'one of the crown jewels of global

CAMBODIA's Cardamom Mountains now join the ranks of the Amazon, Madagascar, and the

Indonesian-Malaysian rain-forests as being one the world's most important bio-diversity


The scientific analysis of the field collections gathered during this year's biological

surveys of the Cardamoms have been completed and biologists are astounded by the


Frank Momberg, Program Manager for the UK-based Fauna and Flora International (FFI),

said: "On a biological basis, this area qualifies as being one of the crown

jewels of global natural history."

Momberg said because the Cardamoms are home to so many globally threatened species

and to species never recorded before by science it is crucial to protect this area.

"This bio-diversity cannot be replaced in other pieces of forest in Cambodia,

nor in other areas of Indochina," he said.

"This area is so special globally, as well as on a national scale, that it deserves

the highest possible conservation status."

Momberg said the results of the survey clearly show that the Cardamoms meet the biological

and ecological criteria to be designated a natural World Heritage Site.

Momberg said the Mount Samkos and Mount Aural Wildlife Sanctuaries, established in

1993 by a Royal Decree from King Norodom Sihanouk, should be accorded World Heritage

status by the Government as soon as possible.

And once plans are in place to protect and manage the central Cardamoms, this area

should be nominated as well, linking the two sanctuaries and creating a World Heritage

Site encompassing nearly a million hectares.

Stretching from the Mount Samkos massif on the Thai border to the Mount Aural massif

in south-central Cambodia, the densely forested slopes of the Cardamoms are the last

great wilderness area in mainland Southeast Asia.

FFI led the first extensive biological survey of the Cardamoms earlier this year,

in partnership with field teams from the Ministry of Environment and the Department

of Forestry's Wildlife Protection Office.

The Cardamom Mountains Bio-diversity Survey 2000 report, soon to be published, details

the findings of the research teams.

The report says the presence of endangered species such as tiger and Asian elephant

have been confirmed, and other rare species of large mammals including gaur, pileated

gibbon, leopard, Malay sun bear, and the smooth-coated otter also roam the Cardamom


But the news is not all good. Though the tigers are present, the threat to their

existence is very real.

"The data collected during this survey cannot be used to assess population trends,

but all local people interviewed believe that tiger numbers are falling as a result

of hunting pressures driven by the traditional medicine and fur trade," says

the report.

The Asian elephant seems to be fairing better, but there are concerns that their

habitat will be destroyed by logging.

"An estimated 300 elephants remain in the greater Cardamom area, making it comparable

to Sayabouri Province in Laos, which is the most important single site for the conservation

of the Asian elephant in Indochina," says the report.

Banteng, a species of wild cattle, are reported to be found in low densities in the

Samkos basin, and one of the survey teams found what is thought to be banteng dung,

but the report says the survival of this species of wild cattle in this area is still


"The only area in the Cardamom Mountains sufficient to meet the habitat needs

for long survival of this species is the Samkos Basin. This basin is perhaps the

most threatened area of the Cardamoms because settlement of refugees, road development

and unmonitored forest clearance is occurring.

"Local reports from this area suggest a large decline in banteng numbers over

the past two years and if the above causes are not addressed as a matter of priority

the species will be driven to local extinction in the immediate future," says

the report.

The report says the greatest immediate threat to the mammals of the Cardamoms comes

from hunting - both by local people and organized expeditions from Thailand - to

supply the demand for traditional medicine, trophies and furs. It is feared that

this hunting might have already caused the recent destruction of the Cardamom's Java

rhinoceros population - one of the rarest large mammals in the world.

But the primary danger to the integrity of the greater Cardamoms is the development

of roads, says the report. The upgrading and extension of the road through the Mount

Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, is of particular concern as it will divide and significantly

reduce its value for the conservation of large mammals.

And there is other road construction that will soon cross the range and allow for

an influx of poachers and settlers.

"The two logging roads that are currently under construction in the Central

Cardamoms have the potential to destroy its size and remoteness - the two things

that make this area an internationally important site for large mammal conservation.

"Without these qualities, species that prefer the forest interior to the degraded

edges, such as rhino, gaur, and clouded leopard, will be subjected to further extinction

pressures," says the report.

Apart from "charismatic" creatures like bears, tigers, and elephants, the

survey found a spectacular array of nature's less cuddly, but equally important,


FFI's reptile specialists discovered 15 species never recorded before in Cambodia

and one snake that is thought to be new to science.

A total of 65 reptile species were recorded during the limited time of the survey

but this figure is sure to fall far short of the actual number inhabiting the Cardamoms,

says the report.

The discovery of an intact, viable population of Siamese crocodiles in the large

rivers and marshes of the Central Cardamoms was the reptile survey's most important


At best, only a handful of these crocodiles might survive in Thailand, Laos, and

Vietnam, so the existence of a relatively large population of them in the Cardamoms

is key for the species's survival in the wild.

Local people said they do not hunt these crocodiles as it brings bad luck. But the

use of explosives for fishing, possible commercial pressures, and the inclination

of new settlers to shoot the crocodiles for fun jeopardizes their survival.

The FFI report recommends that the Veal Veng marshes, along with the major rivers

of the Central Cardamoms, be conserved to protect the Siamese crocodiles, and other

threatened species such as freshwater turtles, and water monitor lizards. Fourteen

of the reptile species found by the team are considered globally at risk.

Momberg said King Sihanouk was particularly interested when he learned of the discovery

of the Siamese crocodiles. In 1955 the King visited the remote village nearest the

Veal Veng marshes, Ou Som, after villagers spent two weeks preparing an airstrip

for the King's plane.

Momberg said FFI will encourage the Government to nominate the Veal Veng marshes

as a "Wetland of International Importance" under the Convention on Wetlands

to which Cambodia is a signatory.

"Given the King's concern about the fate of these crocodiles, it is hoped he

gives his support for the nomination," said Momberg.

As might be expected, the survey's plant team found a great diversity of plant life

and the scientists suspect that among the many specimens collected there will be

species new to science.

The report says the biggest threat to plant life is logging - both legal and illegal

- as well as unregulated human settlement which will transform forest into crop land.

The survey also recorded 170 species of birds in the Mount Samkos sanctuary alone,

with another 43 species identified elsewhere in the Cardamoms. At least 16 of these

species had never before been recorded in Cambodia.

The report calls the Cardamoms an "avian diversity hot spot". Not only

does it have a spectacular collection of endemic species and subspecies, but it is

also an important area for migratory species enroute between Malaysia, China, and


Two of the endemic species in the Samkos area, the chestnut-headed partridge and

the white-tailed robin, show distinct differences from specimens found in Thailand

and elsewhere in Cambodia.

Forty amphibian species were found during the survey. Thirteen of these species were

new records for Cambodia, and at least 14 are still awaiting positive identification

and are possibly new to science.

The fish species discovered have more in common with the fish of peninsula Malaysia.

And because the waters of the Cardamoms differ chemically from the Mekong delta system,

fish species there are specially adapted and not found elsewhere in Cambodia.

The survey also studied the prevalence of snout moths in the Cardamoms - a good indicator

for the diversity and success of other insect life in Southeast Asian habitats.

Moths and other insects play a critical role in pollinating forest plants and as

a food source for birds, bats, reptiles, and spiders. Two hundred and ninety-two

species of snout moths were found, and again, many are new to science.

The diversity of theses moths in the Samkos sanctuary is at least as high as that

of the forests of western Malaysia - one of the world's major bio-diversity "hotspots".

The survey report concludes that the whole of the Cardamom range is "worthy

of a committed and sustained conservation effort".

Momberg told the Post that it is crucial that donor countries play a role in protecting

these mountains.

"Without financial and technical assistance, the Cambodian Government will not

be able to develop a protected area management system for the Cardamoms," he


"So the Ministry of Environment needs support from the international community

to build these two globally important sites - the Samkos and Aural wildlife sanctuaries.

"The international community needs to provide its support to urge the Cambodian

Government to take the central Cardamoms out of the [logging] concession system and

designate it a protected forest," said Momberg.

At the May, 2000 Consultative Group Meeting in Paris, the United Nations' Food and

Agriculture Organization also called for the central Cardamoms to be taken out of

logging concession.

Apart from their significance as a habitat for plants and wildlife, the Cardamoms

have a huge influence on people's livelihoods in much of southwest Cambodia.

"The watershed value of these forests alone by far economically outweighs the

value of short-term gains from logging," Momberg said.

The forests soak up rainwater and slowly release it back into the soil, helping to

prevent catastrophic flooding in the wet season and providing a water supply during

the dry.

The streams and rivers flowing from the Cardamoms are part of an important coastal

and freshwater ecosystems that include Cambodia's most productive farms and fisheries.

Among the steps needed to protect the Cardamoms, FFI urges the Government to develop

a regional management and conservation plan as soon as possible.

For the Samkos and Aural sanctuaries, FFI recommends active management begin on the

ground and the army presence in these areas be reduced to the minimum needed for

national security.

FFI says a new conservation area must be established in the central Cardamoms and

no roads should be constructed across the range. Also, they say migration into the

region should be halted and more attractive settlement opportunities be established

outside the region.

"Basically the Cardamoms are a bank account that we don't know how to open yet.

If we open it now all the savings in that account will be lost," said Momberg.


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