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Cardamom Mountains research group

Protecting and studying Cambodia’s mountain wilderness.

Zoos Victoria is working with Fauna & Flora International, the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and local communities to document and protect biodiversity in the Cardamom Mountains, south-west Cambodia. The program primarily focuses on the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, an area of 334,000ha.

The Greater Cardamoms are considered a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and a conservation priority. Covering more than two million hectares, this area supports significant populations of threatened wildlife, including 70 species on the IUCN Red List.

The conservation issue

Covering almost two million hectares, the Cardamom Mountains in western Cambodia comprise the single largest area of forest left in mainland South-east Asia. This remote wilderness was effectively closed to the outside world until fighting ended in 1998, and is still remarkably intact. Not only have many new species been discovered, but these mountains currently support an abundance of threatened species including Asian Elephants, Gaur, Green Peafowl, Pileated Gibbons and Siamese Crocodiles.

Much of the mountain range is now officially protected. This unique landscape, however, is increasingly under threat. The construction of several new roads into the mountains has increased access by illegal loggers, poachers and land-grabbers. Increased accessibility is also associated with major development projects such as hydro-dams and mines, putting additional pressure on wildlife. Furthermore, resources and technical capacity to implement the law are limited. The next 5-10 years will be crucial for establishing the necessary mechanisms and partnerships to ensure an ecologically sustainable future for the Cardamom Mountains.

Fauna and Flora International is working with the Cambodian Ministry for the Environment to manage and protect the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in the western Cardamoms.

Key program objectives

This program’s overriding objective is to conserve the biodiversity of Phnom Samkos Sanctuary, through training Cambodian biologists and supporting their field work. The information generated will inform the long-term management of the Sanctuary. The knowledge and skills gained by local biologists will also strengthen long-term conservation management in Cambodia.

The key aim of the program is to gather reliable data on the status, distribution and needs of endangered wildlife and key habitats in the Cardamom Mountains, and so inform and enhance protection of the mountains.

This will be achieved by:

  • Completing biological surveys of the Cardamom Mountains, and conducting targeted studies of species and key issues
  • A regular monitoring program for key areas and wildlife to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation interventions
  • Continuing to build the capacity of biologists from the Ministries of Environment and Forestry Administration
  • Publishing and disseminating findings and conservation recommendations for use by site managers and the wider conservation community.

Zoos Victoria’s role

Zoos Victoria has supported this program since 2006. The core focus of our support is the Cardamom Mountains Research Group, a team of Cambodian biologists working to uncover the secrets of this biological treasure trove.

Our funding also supports the training of sanctuary rangers and establishment of community protected areas within the Sanctuary.

We also support an academic capacity building program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, giving Masters students practical field experience.

Program outcomes

  • Significantly reduced levels of illegal poaching
  • 30,000ha of community reserves established
  • More than 70% of sanctuary protected from illegal activity (e.g. logging, poaching)
  • Significant increase in knowledge of wildlife (13 new species described)
  • Illegal activities associated with hydro-dam development controlled (logging, poaching).

Program partners

Fauna and Flora International

Cambodian Ministry of Environment