Saving Cambodia's Dry Forests
Just 50 years ago, large herbivores like Banteng, Asian Elephant, and Eld’s Deer as well as predators like Indochinese tiger and leopard were so abundant in the Dry Forests of North and Northeast Cambodia that scientists compared this ecoregion to the savannas of East Africa. In the troubled decades that followed, however, habitat destruction and hunting greatly reduced animal numbers and diversity. Today, the largest intact dry forests in Indochina remain in north-eastern Cambodia in an area known as the Eastern Plains Landscape (EPL).
WWF-Cambodia works in two key protected areas in this landscape, Mondulkiri Protected Forest and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary. Even in these areas, animal numbers are critically low, especially of large herbivores and their predators. With its largely intact dry forest habitat, the area forms part of the tiger landscape with the highest potential for recovery in Asia. With increased protection effort, there are already many signs of improvement, particularly of leopard, and prey species such as banteng, deer, and wild pig. This leaves hope that, at some point in the future, wildlife in the EPL can be restored to its former glory.
Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) is a protected area of 372,971 hectares located in the Eastern Plains Landscape of Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. The area is considered an important representative sample of the Lower Mekong Dry Forest Ecoregion and was first designated Mondulkiri Protected Forest by The Royal Government of Cambodia in July 2002, before being renamed in 2016. It is currently under the management of Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, with technical support from WWF.
Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary contains many wildlife species characteristic of the Lower Mekong Dry Forest ecoregion within the Eastern Plains. This protected areas still holds the wild cattle species including banteng and gaur. Deer species include the endangered Eld's deer, and wild pig are abundant, seen in groups of as many as 100 individuals. Cats are well-represented in the area. Other carnivores include Asiatic jackal and dhole, or Asian wild dog, as well as sun bears and several civet species. The forest also contains a rich diversity of primates including black-shanked douc and Germain's silver langur as well as pig-tailed and long-tailed macaque.
The trapeangs (watering holes) in SWS (and throughout the Eastern Plains) provide breeding habitats for threatened water birds including sarus crane, critically endangered giant and white-shouldered ibis as well as lesser and possibly greater adjutant. Three critically endangered vulture species, slender-billed, white-rumped, and red-headed vulture, maintain nesting populations in the protected area and are given periodic supplemental feedings of domestic cattle carcasses through a joint monitoring effort of WWF, WCS and BirdLife International. Other charismatic bird species observed in the area include great and oriental pied hornbills, green peafowl, silver pheasant, and great slaty woodpecker.
The critically endangered Siamese crocodile is present in small numbers in the Srepok River and its tributaries within the Wildlife Sanctuary. Turtles and tortoises are commonly confiscated from poachers collecting them for the wildlife trade, most often the endangered elongated tortoise. Water and Bengal monitors have also been sighted and confiscated from collectors. Snakes that have been observed include king cobra and Burmese python. Large individuals of several fish species are still caught in the Srepok River including rare species like seven-striped barb or giant carp. Freshwater sting raysmay also be present. An Irrawaddy dolphin was last seen in the upper Srepok in 2005.
Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary (PPWS), 222,500 hectares in size, is another critically important protected area in the Eastern Plains in which WWF is supporting government conservation efforts. PPWS was established in 1993 by Royal Decree although former King Sihanouk had already designated Phnom Prich a forest reserve in 1962, originally as a refuge for the now extinct Kouprey.
Today, Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary covers 2,225 square kilometres – more than 15% of the total area of Mondulkiri province – and forms part of one of the largest remaining relatively undisturbed landscapes in mainland Southeast Asia. PPWS is notable for its rich habitat diversity, ranging from hilly evergreen forest to open dry dipterocarp woodland and seasonally wet grasslands.
The wildlife sanctuary hosts the core area for the largest Asian elephant herd in eastern Cambodia. Recent camera trapping shows that there is good recruitment with many calves seen in photographs. Wildlife also includes the mega-herbivores banteng and gaur as well as populations of the endangered Eld’s deer. These and other herbivores form the prey base for an unknown number of Indochinese tigerpresent in the sanctuary, and a survey is underway to estimate tiger population size more accurately. Other key carnivores include leopardand clouded leopard, as well as marbled cat, jungle cat, and dhole. Phnom Prich is one of the last global strongholds for the endangered green peafowl, and the elusive white-winged duck has also been spotted inside the protected area.
This wealth of ecosystems is due to the sanctuary’s very diverse elevational structure varying between 80 to 640 metres that has created a rich, intricate mosaic of forest habitats: About 50% of Phnom Prich’s forests are dry dipterocarp with an additional 40% semi-evergreen and 10% evergreen forest. These open forest mosaics support globally significant populations of animals characteristic of both dry and dense forest ecosystems, particularly large mammals and waterbirds, many of which have been extirpated from most other parts of Southeast Asia.
Keys On Going Projects On Supporting the Landscape
Advancing CSOs' Capacity to Enhance Sustainability Solutions in the Eastern Plains Landscape of Cambodia
The Eastern Plains Landscape (EPL) is part of the Lower Mekong Dry Forest - the largest intact block of dry forest in Southeast Asia. Making up as the core of the Eastern Plains, Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary (PPWS) harbor a large diversity of habitats ranging from evergreen hills to open dry forest. The landscape is home to populations of many endangered species including Asian Elephant, Banteng, Siamese Crocodile, and Eld’s deer as well as several endangered large waterbirds and vultures. Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary has also been recognized as a key tiger recovery area in the region.
Being sparsely populated, the area offers a unique opportunity to secure the biodiversity of EPL at a large scale. At the same time, the forests and it’s rich biodiversity are under tremendous pressure from commercial clear-felling, agricultural expansion and illegal trade in luxury wood and wildlife. Strategic and coordinated actions that enable local communities to take part and make decisions are necessary to ensure sustainable benefits of the protected areas and their resources.
The project funded by the European Union, will be built on the Cambodian Government initiative to create specific status of “Community Protected Area (CPA)" where communities living inside protected areas are legally entitled to sustainably manage a defined and zoned area of their surrounding forest, just as they had sustainably done in an informal manner for generations.
In as much as their operationalization at local level and their official recognition at national level entail long administrative and costly processes, CPAs are not yet fulfilling their potential as CSOs. The mission of applicants and co-applicants’ (WWF, ADG, MVi, and CLEC) support the CPAs in this process leading to their recognition, empowerment, access to rights and move to improved environmental, social and economic pathway. The duration of the project is five years.
To succeed, the approach requires a strong partnership among applicants and a trustful relationship with the targeted communities. To be common and comprehensive, the approach requires the integration of the various and different preoccupations of women. WWF and the co-applicants will use their experience and innovation capacities in the following key methods underpinning the Action as on support to the legalization of the CPAs, gender approach, strengthening CPA organizations, pilot digital warning system and the establishment of joint patrolling within forest corridors between CPAs.
Improve organizational and management capacities of 18 CPA’s with greater engagement of women to fulfill decision making roles in CPA management committees. This includes providing assistance for the development of inclusive internal regulations to promote female participation in membership and decision making processes through their increased representation in CPA management committees which is currently under 10%; participatory skills and capacity trainings will support the organizational and social development of CPAs in institutionalization, internal and external communication, coordination and networking.
Improve CPAs members and representatives capacities and skills to contribute to policy dialogue and to implement local actions for the protection and conservation of forests. This includes 1) facilitate exchange and learning, and raise awareness on legal rights and environmental laws; 2) locally reinforce the application of laws and regulations and implement their management plans (land-use sign board demarcation, forest patrolling etc.; and 3) co-organize local events and advocacy actions. Provincial alliances, platforms, and consortiums will be facilitated to involve CPAs, other CSOs and the private sector in strengthening public support services and improving natural resource management and CPA right at the provincial level.
Engages CPAs in national policy dialogue and action for the protection and conservation of forests with law makers, relevant authorities and private sector. This includes establishes system at national level in which influence can be exerted on the relevant public agencies and other involved stakeholders. Two approaches are to be implemented:
An issue-based approach that builds on the needs and initiatives from the Outcome 2 local linkages with the intention of removing obstacles and to improve specific regulatory framework conditions (advice, report, legal studies, monitoring, networking, discussions with government, participation in events);
Another more comprehensive approach is to set-up and use formal mechanisms to address broader forest conservation issues, such as participation in forest sector working groups, the annual Natural Resources Management Forum (NRM Forum) chaired by the Prime Minister of Cambodia, and the quarterly NRM forum attended by all ministries.
1/ Local Community: around 2,000 households from 18 CBOs in Mondulkiri Province will have benefit from the project; 2/ NGOs: local NGO’s will get support to improve their institutional capacity and supporting service to communities. They will be playing a role to link communities and decision makers; 3/ Sub-national and national government: government agencies at provincial and national level will get support to improve their governance and PA management.
This project is funded by the European Union.
*** Disclaimer: this webpage was created and maintained with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of WWF-Cambodia and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
Safeguarding a critical biodiversity conservation corridor in Cambodia's Eastern Plains Landscape
Cambodia’s Eastern Plains Landscape (EPL) covers 2,746,000 hectares and hosts a network of six Protected Areas (PA) forming the largest remaining intact block of dry forest and one of the last biodiversity hotspots in Southeast Asia. The EPL is recognized as one of the 200 globally most valuable biodiversity ecoregions by WWF and other conservation organizations. This Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) has been experiencing rapid deforestation and is increasingly threatened by anthropogenic drivers including systemic poverty, unclear land rights, non- participatory land-use planning and weak governance.
In the core area of the EPL, Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary (PPWS) cover 595,471 hectares, providing agriculture and NTFP-based subsistence livelihoods to 30,000 individuals including 8,000 indigenous people. This mosaic forest landscape hosts populations of endangered and critically endangered species including Asian elephant, leopard, dhole, banteng, Siamese crocodile, Eld’s deer, Giant ibis and three species of vultures.
The ecological integrity of the PPWS/SWS complex is threatened by loss of connectivity between the core zones of the two Protected Areas, affecting globally threatened species of wildlife and the livelihoods of local communities relying on the forest.
The target area of the project is the last potential wildlife corridor between these two core zones. Although it connects the core zones of the two Protected Areas, the wildlife corridor entirely legally sits within the SWS boundaries, covers approximately 250 km2, and is home to eight communities totaling 3,500 people (including 50% indigenous people). Loss of connectivity happens mainly through illegal forest clearing by communities for agricultural purposes and in the absence of an enforced SWS management plan. Forest encroachment drives potential human-wildlife conflicts and the loss of forest ecosystem services such as NTFPs, water provision and climate regulation on which the communities depend.
This project will ensure that the biodiversity corridor connecting the core zones of Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary (PPWS) and Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) is maintained, by improving the livelihoods of vulnerable forest communities through sustainable and forest-friendly agricultural practices and by achieving legal protection of biodiversity corridors at national and provincial levels.
Contribution to Tx2
SWS has been selected by the Cambodian government as the most suitable site countrywide for the reintroduction of tigers in Cambodia. Thus this project would provide critical contribution to this global first. However a well maintained connected habitat supported by local communities, civil society and authorities is a prerequisite. The activities and project area selected for this project are critical to contribute to the 2030 vision in that they address three key pillars for biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation which replication will show impact at scale. This project will foster a 3-pronged strategic approach.
Current levels and community perception of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) across PPWS and SWS will be assessed through the conduction of household interviews with a focus on communities living inside the biodiversity corridor.
WWF-Cambodia will map HWC hotspots across the 2 Protected Areas, providing decision-makers with unique and valuable information on priority areas for HWC mitigation and consideration during the development of the SWS management plan. Communities will also be provided with equipment to improve their agricultural and livelihood practices in a wildlife friendly way, mitigating the risk of HWC.
HWC will be further mitigated and prevented when scientific understanding of wildlife movements, especially Asian elephant herds’ movements, in the PPWS/SWS biodiversity corridor will be improved and documented in collaboration with elephant and HWC experts and vets from the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF). Distribution and if possible home ranges will be mapped and disseminated to government and local communities to ensure that elephant movement routes are conserved, thus attempting to prevent future human-elephant conflict.
There will be meetings with government partners and relevant stakeholders to identify in-country personnel to be trained to collar elephants in order to better understand the movement of the elephants within the biodiversity corridor in PPWS/SWS complex.
A “Commune Agro-Ecosystems Analysis” (CAEA) methodology incorporating sustainable livelihoods framework (SLF) principles will propose an appropriate agricultural extension program based on farmers’ key issues and opportunities. Conservation-based agriculture models will be introduced to communities living in the PPWS/SWS biodiversity complex. Community members, especially the most vulnerable woman-led households, in the eight communities will be trained on sustainable agricultural techniques (crop and seed selection, crop rotation, irrigation, fertilizer, and HWC mitigation tools) along with practical guidelines and facilitated study tour to conservation-based agriculture sites.
As part of the CAEA, a Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) will provide information on wealth ranking, land tenure, gender-based task-sharing, income source (NTFP/Agriculture) through participatory discussions with male and female representatives from eight communities.
Based on the RRA, HWC perception study, crop analysis and market viability assessment, recommendations and training for improving productivity and adopting better technics for crops and husbandry (crop rotation, wet/dry season-based cultivation, improved irrigation, poultry farming, non- wildlife-attracting crops...) will be provided to farmers with the support of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) and the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).
Conservation-based agriculture models will be introduced to communities living in the PPWS/SWS biodiversity complex. Community members, especially the most vulnerable woman-led households, in the eight communities will be trained on sustainable agricultural techniques (crop and seed selection, crop rotation, irrigation, fertilizer, and HWC mitigation tools) along with practical guidelines and facilitated study tour to conservation-based agriculture sites.
MoE and the eight local communities from Pou Chrey and Dei Ey Communes located inside the biodiversity corridor will collaborate through joint consultation workshops aiming at reviewing and endorsing the official five-year SWS management plan. WWF-Cambodia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and relevant partners, will work to revise SWS management plan by providing evidence-based documentation about the role of the corridor within PPWS/SWS complex to MoE, while regularly meet with MoE to ensure that “Biodiversity Conservation Corridor” remain in the Cambodia Environmental Code (EC) and to advocate on the incorporation of the PPWS/SWS corridor into the National Corridor Map.
The plan will specify the importance of the biodiversity corridor connecting the core zones of SWS and PPWS and the role of the eight communities in its protection. A zoning process will assess biological and sociological data to define purpose areas inside SWS: 1) strictly protected core zones, 2) restricted-access to conservation zones, 3) sustainably used zones and 4) community zones.
The PPWS/SWS corridor recognition will contribute to the Environmental Code (EC), an upcoming new national legislation which will address policy gaps and overlapping structures and responsibilities in the current environmental governance. WWF-Cambodia is currently one of the key contributors to the drafting of the EC, providing input and engaging with the government. In this context, the project will demonstrate the role of biodiversity conservation corridors, which will lead to formalizing their protection at national level by nesting them in the Environmental Code.
WWF-Cambodia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and relevant partners, will work to revise SWS management plan by providing evidence-based documentation about the role of the corridor within PPWS/SWS complex to MoE, while regularly meet with MoE to ensure that “Biodiversity Conservation Corridor” remain in the Cambodia Environmental Code (EC) and to advocate on the incorporation of the PPWS/SWS corridor into the National Corridor Map.
- 150 farming households (including 20 of the most vulnerable women-led farming households) in eight forest-dependent communities who implement the conservation-based agriculture.
- 150 farming households (including 20 of the most vulnerable women-led farming households) in eight forest-dependent communities who implement the conservation-based agriculture.
WWF-Cambodia will collaborate with CEDAC to build the capacity of relevant DAFF staff, as well as of eight farming households’ group leaders in monitoring and evaluating the conservation-based agriculture solutions proposed within this project.
WWF-Cambodia also partners with other international NGOs including Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Conservation International (CI), Birdlife International (BI), NTFP-EP and RECOFTC through joint programs addressing the threats to EPL’s ecological integrity and to support the wider vision of conserving the landscape for wildlife and humans to live in harmony.
Without corridors, forest areas become fragmented, species disappear and natural processes break down, affecting ecosystems and forest communities who rely on them. This project aims to enhance livelihood for forest communities and improve the protection of the biodiversity corridor.
- Scientific research on movements of elephants in biodiversity corridors will provide new information to support the government’s conservation and social development efforts.
- Livelihoods of target communities will be enhanced through innovative agricultural models such as crop selection and rotation, irrigation technics, natural fertilizer and pest killer, fire breaks, HWC mitigation tools.
- The SWS management plan will recognize the role of a biodiversity conservation corridor in alignment with the appropriate legislation to maintain connectivity between the two Protected Areas.
- Viable populations of threatened species are maintained including Asian elephant and Indochinese leopard currently at risk of becoming critically endangered.
- Reduction in deforestation, human-wildlife conflicts and their associated impact on ecosystem services (water provision, climate regulation, NTFPs) on which communities rely.
- The importance of conservation corridors will be formalized in the new Environmental Code of Cambodia, paving way for upscaling and applying the new governance model of preserving corridors throughout the country’s Protected Areas where such corridors have been identified, thus ensuring a sustainable network of connected Protected Areas and contributing to the conservation of key endangered species and to the ecological integrity of mosaic landscapes.
USAID Wildlife Sanctuary Support Program
The USAID Wildlife Sanctuary Support Program seeks to conserve forests and biodiversity, and promote inclusive, sustainable management of the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary (PPWS) and their extended landscapes in Cambodia’s Eastern Plains Landscape (EPL).
This Project embodies a three-pronged approach: (1) improving the conservation of biodiversity in the PPWS and SWS PAs and biological corridors through improved law enforcement and natural resource management capacities of government officials; (2) decreasing pressure on natural resources in the landscape by promoting sustainable livelihoods among local communities; and (3) strengthening inclusive and effective landscape governance.
Wildlife Sanctuary Support Program Results Framework
Overall Goal: To conserve forests and biodiversity, and promote inclusive, sustainable management of the Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries and their extended landscapes
OBJ 1: Improved biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health in SWS/PPWS & extended landscape
OBJ 2: Increased sustainable economic opportunities and natural capital reinvestment
OBJ 3: Strengthened inclusive and effective extended landscape governance
Result 1.1: PPWS and SWS populations of flagship species remain stable or are increasing in comparison to the 2016 estimates
Result 1.2: Improved management & enforcement systems in SWS/PPWS and the extended landscape
Result 2.1: Increased economic opportunities for target farming households in PPWS &SWS, and enhancement of the role of women in responsible agricultural practices
Result 2.2: Increased environmental awareness for forest stewardship among target “land title” and CPA communities in PPWS and SWS
Result 3.1: Economic development decisions in Mondulkiri Province (covering most of the PPWS/SWS extended landscape) based on an inclusive Provincial Spatial Plan balancing economic, social, and environmental sustainability