Thanks to Rainforest Trust supporters, one of Southeast Asia’s last great rainforests is now permanently protected with the declaration of the 1,014,100-acre Southern Cardamom National Park located in the heart of the Indo-Burmese Peninsula.
Importantly, the new park is the final critical centerpiece that connects six major national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to form a massive contiguous mega-protected area spanning a total of 4,491,115 acres – nearly the size of New Jersey – providing a permanent sanctuary for Cambodia’s endangered wildlife.
On May 9, 2016, the Royal Government of Cambodia issued a sub-decree declaring the creation of the new Southern Cardamom National Park. Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the new protected area is hailed as one of the last un-fragmented Asian Elephant corridors on the planet.
Rainforest Trust in collaboration with Cambodian partner Wildlife Alliance worked with Cambodia’s government to formally establish the new national park. Its creation comes after intense and prolonged pressure to open the Cardamom Mountains to logging and the development of industrial plantations.
The Southern Cardamoms are a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot boasting 28 IUCN Red-Listed wildlife species and over 2,000 plant species. Though the area hosts a fantastic wealth of flora and fauna, much of its wildlife is endangered. In total, 27 species found in the Cardamom Range are imperiled with extinction, including Asian Elephants and Pileated Gibbons.
In the absence of legal protected status, the area has long been threatened by private interests and was slated an astounding 36 times to be converted into large-scale industrial plantations and used for mining and livestock grazing. However for over 14 years, Wildlife Alliance has successfully defended the Southern Cardamoms by focusing on their economic value to the nation through relentless advocacy and campaigning. The mountain range supplies water to 16 hydro-power dams that are estimated to provide 20 percent of the country’s electricity, and it is the number one rain-catchment area in the nation.
Embracing a three-pronged conservation approach, our local partner battled to avoid deforestation and loss of species. First, systematic ranger patrols were employed to stop forest clearing and wildlife poaching. Next, profitable alternative livelihoods were developed with local communities so they no longer needed to depend on harvesting the forest and its wildlife. And finally, through our partner’s persistent advocacy, the Cardamoms were promoted as an economic priority for the nation.
Our partner’s strategy has paid off. Since 2004, 36 economic land concessions were prevented or cancelled, 5,000 residents benefitted from alternative income, and the Southern Cardamoms have been recognized by international tour guides as Cambodia’s second tourism destination following the temples of Angkor.
After this long-awaited national park declaration, the next step for the Southern Cardamoms is to be nominated as a World Biosphere Reserve – a promotion that UNESCO and Wildlife Alliance have been working toward for the last two and a half years and hope to see through in the years to come.
“The declaration of Southern Cardamom National Park adds another exceptional piece to an enormous protected landscape puzzle that is vital to the people, wildlife and environment of Cambodia,” said Rick Passaro, Asia Conservation Officer for Rainforest Trust. “This is a massive conservation victory for Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia.”
Header photo: Endangered Pileated Gibbons are one of many species protected in the new national park. Photo by Wildlife Alliance.