Cambodia Protects Key Grasslands
March 18, 2010
Big birds got a big boost in Cambodia, where a new protected
area will safeguard six of the largest remaining tracts of lowland grassland in
Southeast Asia. The wildlife-rich sites, located in and around the Tonle Sap
floodplain, are a refuge for the rare Bengal florican and other globally
threatened birds. In addition, the grasslands provide a fishing, grazing, and
deep-water rice farming resource for local communities.
“Recognizing the importance of these sites as part of
Cambodia’s unique natural heritage shows the national government’s great
commitment to the conservation of some of the country’s valued landscapes,”
said WCS President Steven Sanderson.
The six sites include one in Siem Reap province and five in Kampong Thom
province, comprising a total of 76,996 acres of habitat. Provincial conservation orders had offered some protection
to these areas but large-scale commercial rice production made them vulnerable
to land-clearing and dam-building activities. With these new designations,
staff from Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are
empowered to prevent such destructive land-use practices.
Among the species benefiting from the designations is the
endangered Bengal florican. Fewer than 1,300 of these large, ground-nesting
birds remain in the world. More than half of them live in Cambodia.
Traditional, low-intensity agricultural practices, such as
seasonal burning, plowing, planting, and harvesting, help support the needs of
the florican in the wild. Illegal commercial rice farming, however, destroys
its habitat, forcing floricans into ever-shrinking areas. The new declaration
represents the strongest step Cambodia has taken to date to protect the habitat
of this and other species living in the protected areas – including Sarus
cranes, storks, ibises, and rare eagles.
WCS worked in collaboration with Cambodia’s Forestry and
Fisheries Administrations, local governments, and community stakeholders to
strengthen the areas’ management of natural resource. The protected area
designations resulted from this endeavor.
As part of that effort, WCS sourced funds and provided technical advice and
management support. Other partners involved in this effort include the Centre
d’Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC), the Sam Veasna Center (SVC), BirdLife International in
Indochina and the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), and
the University of East Anglia.
The collaborative project has been supported by grants from: Fondation
Ensemble; the IUCN Netherlands Ecosystem Grants Program; the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders – Critically Endangered Animal
Conservation Fund; the UNDP/GEF-funded Tonle Sap Conservation Project; WCS
Trustee Ms. Eleanor Briggs; the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, administered
through BirdLife International in Indochina and which is a joint initiative of
l’Agence Française de Développement; Conservation International; the Global
Environment Facility; the Government of Japan; the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation; and the World Bank.