Ecotourism collapse threatens Cambodia’s wildlife

The collapse of tourism in South-east Asia means wildlife and conservation in southwest Cambodia may come to a halt in the next few weeks, as forest rangers who protect the animals rely on revenue from ecotourism.

With the temporary closure of Cardamom Tented Camp (CTC) in Cambodia, forest patrols by Wildlife Alliance rangers in Botum Sakor national park in southwest Cambodia may have to be suspended.

Wildlife in Cambodia are in danger as the pandemic keeps eco-tourists away; a silvered langur pictured

The rangers’ equipment, food and wages are provided in entirety by the Thailand-based Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) and CTC – both dependent on tourism for their income, which has been reduced to zero due to the Covid-19 shutdown.

As of mid-May, all 14 rangers policing 18,000ha of evergreen lowland forest in the national park are still operating, relying on funds from GTAEF. However, these funds could run out as early as the end of May, said GTAEF and CTC in a joint press release.

Until then, ranger foot patrols to seek out poachers and remove their hunting traps are still operational. But they would stop, should GTAEF support fail and guests not return to CTC in the next months, which seems increasingly likely. This would leave the forest unprotected as rangers return to their home villages.

“We are extremely proud of the rangers’ efforts over the last six years. They have all but stamped out bushmeat poaching, the illegal wildlife trade and land grabbing on the concession,” said John Roberts, director of elephants and conservation at GTAEF.

“However, we see from the rampant forest clearance in surrounding areas that the rangers’ excellent work would almost immediately be reversed should patrolling stop in the next few weeks.”

GTAEF said that it pays the lion’s share of the rangers’ wages in the Cambodia project.

The last guest at CTC checked out on March 30, according to the company. The camp’s manager, Allan Michaud, who is still resident at the lodge, said that the rangers’ patrols were vital to stop illegal activities such as logging and hunting which is lethal for mammals such as pangolins, gibbons, deer and wild cats.

“Prior to the Covid shutdown, illegal hunting in Botum Sakor national park had declined by around 90 per cent over the last five or so years. That is now at risk. The sooner we secure income for the ranger patrols, the better the survival chances of wildlife and habitat,” said Michaud.

To secure continued forest patrols, a FundRazr page has been set up by GTAEF to mobilise emergency income for the rangers. GTAEF and CTC assured donors that all funds will go to financing the rangers’ income, materials and food so that they can continue wildlife protection patrols.

Roberts said that the fund-raiser “is our last best hope for forest and wildlife protection in Botum Sakor for the next few months, until tourism picks up again.”

Forest rangers depend on support from ecotourism, which has taken a huge hit from the virus crisis

In addition, CTC will offer donors giving US$200 or more a free night on top of a two-night stay. Vouchers for the free night are valid until February 2022 and are transferable.

Since opening in late 2017, the camp has operated with the slogan “Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing” to show the direct link between income from guest stays and forest habitat protection through ranger patrols.

While Cardamom Tented Camp & GTAEF provide the funding, the Botum Sakor ranger teams are coordinated by the Cambodia-based conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance, under the auspices of the Cambodian Ministry of Environment.

CTC is a three-way initiative between Minor Group, YAANA Ventures and Wildlife Alliance to ensure the land and its biodiversity does not fall into the hands of loggers, poachers and sand dredging operations.

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