Coastal mangroves are now contiguous with a protected area network of nearly 2.4 million ha
In May 2016, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) declared five new protected areas (PAs) covering over one million ha of forest and grassland. This brings the total coverage of the national protected area system to 34% of the Cambodian land surface (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016; Open Development Cambodia, 2016b).
Cambodia forms part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot which, with its high levels of fauna and flora endemism, and limited remaining natural habitat, ranks among the top 10 for irreplaceability and top five for threat, according to the IUCN. Alarmingly, 37% of the key biodiversity areas within the region are not under any formal protection.
Fishing Cat habitat within protected area network
Amongst the new PAs declared is Chuo Phnom Kravanh Khang Tbong National Park, which links the Central Cardamom Mountains National Park with Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, and connects the ridges of the Cardamom Mountains to the coastal mangroves at Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS), a possible Fishing Cat stronghold in SE Asia, and Botum-Sakor National Park.
The contiguous protected area network through and adjoining the Cardamom Mountains now covers nearly 2.4 million ha (Open Development Cambodia, 2016b,c), stretching as far north as Samlaut Multiple Use area in Cambodia; Namtok Khlong Kaew National Park and Khlong Kruewai Chalearm Phrakiat Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand.
More protection for the Fishing Cat
The declaration confers greater protection on the Fishing Cat as a species within the Cardamoms landscape, where there have been numerous records of the species: seized individuals from a village close to Botum Sakor National Park in 2008 (Royan 2009), two Fishing Cat kittens from Prey Nop district and from Koh Kong province in 2014, both courtesy of the Wildlife Alliance Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) (Gauntlett, pers comm), and a pelt discovered in Phnom Samkoh Wildlife Sanctuary (north Cardamom Mountains) by FFI staff in 2015. (Read more…)
Greater genetic diversity of Fishing Cat populations
Connectivity yields the possibility of greater genetic exchange between populations, enabling even transnational migration of Fishing Cats, thus strengthening the case for continued surveying of Fishing Cats across the landscape in order to characterise the metapopulation.
Other threatened species in the Cardamoms landscape
The expansion of the Cardamom Mountains protected landscape should reduce risk to 54 other globally threatened species (Killeen, 2012), especially Endangered Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) threatened with habitat fragmentation.
It may also benefit future tiger (Panthera tigris) populations; the National Park has been identified as a priority site for tiger restoration in Cambodia (DWB/GTI, 2016)- native Indochinese tigers were declared functionally extinct in the country in 2016 (Read more).
Future additional protections- UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve
The new declaration as Souter et al. (2016) point out, “strengthens justifications for designation of the area as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve [MAB].” Such reserves aim to integrate people and nature for sustainable development, involving multiple stakeholder agreement in designated zoning with various levels of protection, from maximum protection within core zones to transition zones where regulated activities may take place. Importantly, UNESCO MAB is a globally recognised figure, likely yielding increased investment in biodiversity research and conservation efforts, which is crucial within a protected area system which is severely underfunded (Souter et al. 2016).
In conclusion, we join Souter et al. (2016) and the conservation NGOs they represent in disseminating news of the RGC declaration, and hope that this and future decisions help to direct resources and technical support towards areas rich in biodiversity within a Hotspot that is one of the most biologically rich- and highly threatened- places in the world.
Central Intelligence Agency (2016) The World Factbook: Cambodia.[accessed 10 June 2016].
DWB/GTI (2016) Cambodian Tiger Action Plan. Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity, Forestry Administration, MAFF and Global Tiger Initiative. Phnom Penh, Cambodia [in Khmer].
IUCN: “On the verge of extinction: A look at endangered species in the Indo-Burma Hotspot”, 16 June 2015 http://www.iucn.org/content/verge-extinction-look-endangered-species-indo-burma-hotspot [accessed 26 July 2016].
Killeen, T.J. (2012) The Cardamom Conundrum: Reconciling Development and Conservation in the Kingdom of Cambodia. National University of Singapore Press, Singapore.
Souter, N., J., Simpson, V., Mould, A., Eames, J. C., Gray, T. N., Sinclair, R., Farrell, T., Jurgens, J., A., & Billingsley, A. (2016). Editorial—Will the recent changes in protected area management and the creation of five new protected areas improve biodiversity conservation in Cambodia? Cambodian Journal of Natural History, 1: 1-5 [accessed 25 July 2016].
Open Development Cambodia (2016b) Natural Protected Areas in Cambodia (1993-2016) [accessed 10 June 2016].
Open Development Cambodia (2016c) Greater Mekong Subregion Protected and Heritage Areas. [accessed 10 June 2016].