A guide to Cambodia’s scaled, furred and feathered friends

The students from Liger painted the illustrations for their new book of Cambodian animals themselves. Photo supplied
The students from Liger painted the illustrations for their new book of Cambodian animals themselves. Photo supplied

A guide to Cambodia’s scaled, furred and feathered friends

The clever young things at Phnom Penh’s Liger Learning Center are at it again with a new zoological tome

Porcupines, Southeast Asian tigers and sun bears! Oh my!

Liger Learning Center has published a coffee table book on Cambodia’s wildlife featuring text descriptions and watercolour paintings by the school’s students themselves.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia's wild tiger population is estimated at less than 30.

The 140-page Illustrated Guide to Wildlife of Cambodia will be distributed by the Ministry of Education to schools across the country and sold on Amazon.

“The book means a lot to me since I put hard work into it, and our research will be read by many people, and it will help them conserve these animals in the wild,” said Seyha Khum, one of the 30 student authors. 

The book is just one of a series of unconventional learning exercises run by the international school. Another last year involved students releasing a CD of Khmer folk music they recorded in the countryside, while in October a group of Liger tweens published a textbook on the Cambodian economy.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Asian golden weaver is under threat due to habitation loss.

Literacy and life sciences teacher Jojo Hart led the 30 children involved in the most recent book on several forays into the Cambodian bush for field research.

“On our trips, the world was our classroom,” said Hart. “Spotting epiphytes [plants that grow on other plants] in the canopy and scrambling through lianas [woody vines] was a lesson in competition [among plants] for sunlight.

“The students were delighted to discover animal tracks in the forest, to see a smooth-coated otter in a mangrove, a slender-billed vulture in a dry deciduous forest, a hibernating frog during the dry season, and to hear the loud wingbeats of the great hornbill.” 

The students spent a week in Siem Reap exploring biodiversity along the Tonle Sap, and visiting the Sam Veasna Center and the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity. In Phnom Penh they met with conservation NGOs like Wildlife Conservation Society and Fauna and Flora International, and took trips to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary and Free the Bears reserve. 

Valentine Debasky, of the New York-based NGO Art in a Box, came to Cambodia for two months to train the students in illustration.

“The paintings were really memorable,” said student author Mengthong Long. “And finding out so many interesting facts about the animals we were researching – for example, the binturong fights its predators by using its pee.” 

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Malayan porcupines are nocturnal and live in burrows.

Other species featured in the book include the leopard, pileated gibbon, gaur, giant mekong catfish, giant ibis, green peafowl and others. 

“The students were so dedicated. You would walk into the classroom to find them sprawled across the room, totally focused on their work,” said Hart. 

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Illustrated Guide to Wildlife of Cambodia is available on Amazon.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was the writing. While the students are handpicked to attend the school from among the brightest across the country, all speak English as their second language and the text had to be of a high standard.

“The students had to learn a lot of vocabulary to understand the articles and books they were reading,” said Hart. “Reducing word count became a game in the classroom.” 

Above all, the aim of the project was building a lasting respect for the natural world. 

“Every living organism in this world always has a role to play in their ecosystem. If one of these species is gone then the whole ecosystem can collapse,” said student author Seyha Khum. “We worked really hard on this book to share Cambodia’s wildlife with readers so they will help protect these species in the future.” 

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The students went on field trips to observe Cambodia's animals.

A book launch for The Illustrated Guide to Wildlife of Cambodia, as well as an auction of original paintings from the book, will take place at Meta House today from 4pm to 8pm.


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