Cambodia’s Dry Forests

A large tree root protruding out of the ground in Cambodia's dry forests, Mondulkiri

Despite Cambodia’s relatively small land mass, it has the largest dry forests in the whole of Indochina. Dry forests are important habitats for so many species partly because of the seasonal wetland clearings that are interspersed within the forests provide essential food and water. These wetlands in addition to the seasonally dry riverbeds provide an essential network of resources within the dry forests.

Diversity

Less than 50 years ago Cambodia’s dry forests were abundant with Asian elephants, Bantengs, Tigers, Leopards and Eld Deer to an extent that Cambodia’s dry forests were compared to the savannas of East Africa. Today due to habitat loss and hunting, the numbers of these species is much diminished, however, the largest remaining dry forests in Indochina remain in north-eastern Cambodia in an area known as the Eastern Plains Landscape.

Thanks to the work of groups such as WWF-Cambodia there have been two key dry forest areas designated as protected, the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.

With its mostly intact dry forests, these areas form a crucial part of a tiger habitat that has the best potential for full recovery out of anywhere in Asia. The initial signs are extremely positive with leopards and prey species such as banteng, wild pig and eld deer being spotted and recorded ever more frequently.

Conservation

In October 2017 the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism formed a partnership with investors to help the protection of Cambodia’s north-eastern dry forests and to set up reserves for wild tigers. This initiative has been taken to help encourage eco-tourism projects in the Kingdom for the benefit of the local people and the crucial dry forest habitats.

Thong Khon who is the Minister of Tourism for Cambodia recently attended a workshop on ecotourism was quoted as saying:

“The Ministry of Tourism aims to develop the northeast, especially Mondulkiri, to make it one of the country’s major tourist draws, particularly for ecotourism and wildlife.”

In addition, the Ministry of Environment recently started speaking with a number of conservation groups, including WWF Cambodia, to import tigers from India and release them in the Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province. The government and WWF Cambodia are planning to release a total of eight tigers in Mondulkiri province by 2022.

The last 100 years has seen the global tiger population decline dramatically, today there are approximately 3,200 tigers alive in the wild and 70 percent of them are in India.

“Sustainable wildlife conservation requires ample financial resources and only tourism can provide the necessary financial means to continue conservation operations,” Mr Khon said.

“The Ministry of Tourism will cooperate with WWF Cambodia and the Ministry of Environment to make this work a success,” he added.

Ecotourism in the Dry Forest Region

Ecotourism in Cambodia’s north-eastern forests offers the most sustainable solution for the forest, its wildlife and people.

Since 2009 there have been a number of small-scale, community-based ecotourism business’ that have opened in the area. Visitors can enjoy stays at the idyllic village of Dei Ey which serves as a perfect gateway for overnight forest treks and tours. There is also a tented camp that receives visitors in the very remote Srepok River region within the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.

Our hopes are that Ecotourism can help to create more opportunities to sustain communities and livelihoods. Encouraging ecotourism in Cambodia will also help raise awareness and educate local community members about the value of the forest and its wildlife.

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