Cambodia: Development threatens a last refuge of wildlife rescued from illegal trade (commentary)

Cambodia: Development threatens a last refuge of wildlife rescued from illegal trade (commentary)

For over 20 years the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC), run by the Cambodian Forestry Administration and supported by the international NGOs Wildlife Alliance and Free the Bears (covered by Asia Sentinel in 2018) has served as the only place in Cambodia which will take all species of wildlife confiscated from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade.

At PTWRC wild animals are cared for and rehabilitated, and if appropriate, returned to the wild when their injuries have healed. This is a place where an elephant that lost a leg to a snare saunters around on a prosthetic limb, and where captive born Eld’s deer, sambar, muntjac, otters, binturongs, gibbons, and hornbills are regularly released back into the forests surrounding the rescue center itself, or into the forests of the world-famous Angkor Wat temples, and also into the gargantuan Cardamom Mountain Rainforest landscape.

And yet a recent report ominously tells that the release site—the 2,300 hectares of forest directly surrounding the actual rescue center—is in danger of clearance under a land transfer scheme.

The details of what, exactly, will replace this forest of 2,300 hectares, which is alive with birds, sambar deer, and an array of other species, just one hour outside the capital city of Phnom Penh, are unclear. But Wildlife Alliance director Nick Marx, understanding that development is unavoidable in modern Cambodia—especially in an area so close to the city—has suggested an alternate vision of development that does not involve the planned condominiums, parking lots, and high-rises.

“We would encourage development if this is conducted in an eco-friendly manner,” he explained. “The creation of a safari-style, eco-resort with professionally managed lodges, lakes, night and day game drives, bird watching shelters, jungle tours, all conducted by professional, well trained guides, would be a great benefit to Cambodian citizens and visiting foreigners, and a tribute to the Cambodian government.”

Lead Image: A group of sambar and Eld’s deer in the threatened forest outside Phnom Penh: the sambar may represent Cambodia’s largest intact population of the vulnerable species. Image courtesy of Phnom Tamao Rescue Center.

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