Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree on July 29 which turns 402,000 hectares
(1 million acres) of the Central Cardamoms into a Protected Forest under the new
The legislation will also protect those animals that live in the forest, including
critically endangered Siamese crocodiles, Asian elephants and Sun bears.
The newly named Central Cardamoms Protected Forest borders the Mount Samkos and Mount
Aural wildlife sanctuaries, making the total 2.4 million acre area in Cambodia's
south-west the largest protected wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia.
David Mead, country representative of international NGO Conservation International
(CI), said the decision represented a "clear, long-term vision for Cambodia's
"The government has... opened the door to long-term international support for
wildlife protection and eco-tourism and has honored a promise made two years ago
to conserve the Cardamoms," he said, adding that the wilderness area was home
to most of Cambodia's large mammals and many endangered species.
"It has wonderful bio-diversity as much of it is in a pristine state,"
said Mead. "Also, and very importantly, it protects major watersheds both into
the Tonle Sap Lake and the Gulf."
Among the benefits of the Cardamoms' protected status will be improved watershed
management, which should help reduce downstream flooding. Two years ago floods cost
the country an estimated $156 million.
Areas of the Central Cardamoms were being logged commercially until January 2001,
the NGO said, when it began working with the Department of Forestry and Wildlife
(DFW) on ensuring the area's permanent protection.
"This is a huge step forward for the protection of our country's amazing array
of life," said Ty Sokhun, DFW director-general. "Animals found virtually
nowhere else in the world can thrive freely in our forests."
CI and DFW have carried out joint wildlife patrols in the area for more than a year,
and plan to ensure the newly protected mountains are well-protected.
"We have enforcement capability on the ground from ranger teams in Pursat and
O'Som all the way to water patrols around Koh Kong," said Mead. "This involves
prevention of illegal acts such as logging and the cutting of yellow vine for production
of yellow vine powders."
CI intends to establish an off-shore trust fund in conjunction with several other
NGOs. The fund will provide core funds that ought to protect the Cardamoms for at
least 30 years.
CI is also working with other NGOs towards establishing an even larger conservation
corridor by linking the Cardamoms to the Botum Sakor National Park on the coast.
That would create a migration route for endangered elephants.
Observers hope the Carda-mom's national protection will lead to international recognition
of the wilderness area. The United Nations Foundation applauded the government's
decision and said that protection of the Cardamom Mountains was a "vital first
step" towards declaring the area a World Heritage site.