Srepok Wilderness Area, Cambodia

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Cambodia (Kampuchea)

Srepok river, East of Cambodia.
© WWF Cambodia / Asnarith Tep

Summary

The Srepok wilderness area in northeastern Cambodia is home to Asian elephant, banteng, gaur, tiger and hundreds of bird species. However, the natural wealth of this region is threatened by the lucrative wildlife trade, illegal logging and land conversion for agriculture.

Working with local communities and wildlife authorities, WWF is developing an ecotourism initiative in Srepok – similar to the successful game reserves of South Africa – to attract tourists from all over the world. Tourism revenue will go to the communities and to conservation projects in the protected areas.

Background

A biologist working in Cambodia in the 1950s and 1960s described Cambodia as "second only to the African gamelands in game abundance," commenting that the expedition team "stumbled through acres of elephant tracks and watched herds of banteng, water buffalo or Eld's deer sweeping across parkland in billowing clouds of dust."

Wildlife populations have decreased substantially since that time, but all of the species, with the probable exception of the kouprey (or Grey ox), are still present in the region.

WWF Cambodia has worked with government and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Eastern Plains landscape of the Central Indochina Dry Forest ecoregion for a number of years.

Hunting and the illegal trade in wildlife are the most immediate threats to biodiversity, but habitat loss and fragmentation are looming threats.

One of the root causes of these threats is that local communities are very poor and need land and natural resources for food security and cash income for basic necessities. The Government, particularly at provincial and district and lower levels, also has very little revenue.

Neither group believes that there are any economic benefits to be derived from conservation, and more immediate subsistence and economic needs overwhelm arguments for sustainability. There is, therefore, a need to work with local communities to improve the sustainability of harvests of natural resources.

An important part of this strategy is to establish tenure to land and/or land-use rights for local people so that they have more incentive to use natural resources sustainably. WWF, Government and NGO partners are also working with people to develop and manage sustainable harvesting regimes.

However, although the strategy is sound and will contribute a great deal to long-term conservation, it takes time and a great deal of resources to develop and implement on a landscape scale. In addition, this alone might not provide sufficient income to match the expectations of enough people to ensure conservation at the required level.

Therefore, it is also necessary to develop alternative livelihoods and sources of income for people, businesses and governments, and these alternatives must have a clear link with conservation and sustainable use of wildlife and their habitats.

The most promising model is Wildlife Conservation by Sustainable Use, which has been used successfully in countries with similar problems. For example, in South Africa, wildlife populations also dipped to alarming numbers several decades ago. The introduction of this model, incorporating ecotourism and various types of harvesting of surplus animals to provide additional economic returns, restored population levels.

The model was initially introduced in public parks and game reserves, but was also adopted by private landowners, who realized that the model offered higher economic returns than farming and ranching. Any ecotourism development must be accompanied by vigorous and sustainable enforcement of wildlife laws.

Discussions with South African conservation managers and scientists indicate that the model could be replicated in Cambodia, initially tested in a pilot area. The generally open dry forests, with associated grasslands, woodlands, and marshes, have a high potential to support this kind of tourism. Hundreds of thousands of tourists already are visiting Cambodia annually, and millions more are visiting neighbouring countries.

Objectives

1. Work with some pilot local communities to develop sustainable management regimes for the natural resources that they harvest.

2. Develop a small pilot site for protecting and restoring mammal numbers and diversity, using the site to develop ecotourism.

Success in these pilots will create models that can be reproduced in other parts of Cambodia.

Solution

In 2003, preliminary work was undertaken to assess the potential of the model. A biological assessment identified areas where conservation interventions could protect the greatest number of focal species, habitats, communities and ecological processes. As a part of this exercise, 5 possible pilot areas were identified.

Following approval by a team of ecotourism consultants and local officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Environment, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, a pilot site was identified.

An initial 5-year development plan and budget has been drawn up for a site within the Eastern Mondulkiri Protection Forest (EMPF). EMPF's 425,000ha are adjacent to the Phnom Prich, Lomphat, and Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuaries in Cambodia, and Yok Don National Park in Vietnam. This is perhaps the largest protected area complex in southeast Asia, covering more than 1 million ha.

Proposed zoning will follow the classical conservation model, namely:

- Core Protection Zone invoked to act as a strict and intensive protection zone where little or no extractive use is permitted to occur, and where low impact, low intensity high quality ecotourism usage is encouraged and developed. Low impact resin collection and fish harvesting can take place under permit and is controlled by strictly enforced harvesting guidelines. The recommended total size of this area is 90,000ha, with intensive patrolling to initially focus on an inner core area of 27,000ha.

- Low Impact Sustainable Use Zone (LISU) buffering and largely surrounding the core protection zone, this zone allows a low impact of resource use, but is aimed at maximising economic return from wildlife through trophy hunting and other harvesting aimed specifically to optimise the former.

- High Impact Sustainable Use Zone (HISU) buffering the low impact zone, the focus of this area is to achieve a maximum sustained yield from certain abundant and practically harvested wildlife resources to benefit local communities.

- Corridor Zone invoked to act as movement and connecting corridors between the core and low impact sustainable use zones of adjacent protected areas. Various levels of controlled and sustainable resource use are permitted provided that this does not compromise the primary functional role of the zone.

- Community Zone delineates the zone focussed specifically on accommodating people, agricultural activities including cereal food production and the keeping of domestic animals. It focuses on infrastructure development and service provision (village development) at strategic points in the landscape.

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