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Threatened wildlife thrives in Cambodia

Threatened wildlife thrives in Cambodia

WHAT does war-battered, impoverished Cambodia have that is the envy of its next

door neighbors?

Give up? The answer, according to the experts, is a

mostly unpolluted environment rich in diverse fauna and flora, including many

rare species on the endangered lists of its two biggest neighbors, Thailand and

Vietnam.

"Cambodia and Laos are very important for nature conservation in

Southeast Asia - they still have flora and fauna which Thailand and Vietnam are

losing," said David Ashwell, Liaison Officer for the International Union for the

Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

And with careful planning, Cambodia could

become a regional leader in environmental tourism in the not too distant

future.

"There is a lot of interest to promote tourism in the country and

there is a lot of potential for environmental-based tourism,"

"It's a

beautiful country. It (Cambodia) still has a lot of wildlife including

elephants, tigers, bears and many varied species which appeal to (environmental)

tourism," he said.

He said much of Cambodia's wildlife was so unique it

occupied a special place in the Southeast Asian region.

There have been

some encouraging signs that the Cambodian government also appreciates the value

of its natural environmental heritage.

An ambitious plan to create 23

protected areas of which seven will be designated national parks and ten

wildlife sanctuaries, is slowly beginning to take form.

In November 1993

a special decree was signed by King Norodom Sihanouk calling for the "Creation

and Designation of Protected Areas" in Cambodia.

"In the mainland of

Southeast Asia the natural environment is degrading rapidly. The raising of this

decree provides optimism, because it shows that in Cambodia there is a

recognition and a priority about the value of nature," said Ashwell.

He

said newly finished scientific surveys in northeast Cambodia had revealed

several species of wildlife threatened with extinction in most other

countries.

Those species included the Kouprey wild cow, tigers and

elephants, he said.

Phnom Penh-based journalist Nate Thayer earlier last

year led an expedition into the country's remote northeast in search of the

fabled Kouprey bovine, declared Cambodia's national animal in 1963 by King

Sihanouk.

Thayer said evidence recovered from the expedition strongly

indicated the existence of 12-20 of the animals.

One recent IUCN survey

had shown the existence of three rare storks, one of which was seen in Laos for

the first time in 30 years in 1993.

According to Ashwell the storks,

which face global extinction, had been recorded breeding in Cambodia's

northeast.

"Many other birds which are now rare elsewhere will be found

here [in Cambodia]," he said. Prospects were excellent that future environment

surveys would uncover new species of wildlife.

One problem acts as an

impediment to future surveys however.

Many of Cambodia's mountainous

border areas, particularly in the northwest, remain out of bounds because of a

festering guerrilla war.

Despite these difficulties the government is

following the development of national parks closely and hopes to introduce

environmental protection laws, said Chhun Sareth, Director for Nature Protection

in the State Secretariat for Environment.

"Today it's only 19 per cent of

the country which is classified as protected - in the future we can maybe expand

the territory to 40 or 45 per cent, when more scientific studies have been

made," he said.

"We must have a special law for protection and we must

have penalties for people breaking the law in the protected areas," said

Sareth.

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