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Conservationists: Road Would Endanger Fragile Forest

Naomi-Collett Ritz / Khmer Times Share:
The Mondulkiri Project rents land from local tribes for an elephant sanctuary. Working with the governor, they have kept logging at bay. Photo: Lee Hudson

SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – Cambodian and foreign conservationists are asking the government to drop a proposed  border crossing with Vietnam and a road that would cut through Cambodia’s Mondulkiri Protected Forest. 

Forest defenders warn that experience shows that loggers and settlers follow roads. In this case, the risk is to one of the most biologically diverse areas left in Southeast Asia: a 1,700-square-mile protected forest that is home to 23 species of endangered animals and trees.  

Although conservation experts acknowledge the benefits of improving the nation’s road network, they believe the proposed road through Mondulkiri is poorly thought out. 

Opened Up for Logging

Lee Hudson of The Mondulkiri Project, an elephant and forest conservation group, says that roads can lead to uncontrollable damage to “protected” forests.

“The Mondulkiri forest is a long way away from the Mondulkiri Project,” he said via email. “From our experience, we have had success in protecting our small piece of forest by limiting access to it from roads. This is why the government likes roads through forests – it opens them up and makes it easy access to log them…it seems that it is only required to aid logging, rather than needed for trade with Vietnam.”

“Our forest is very small, and is rented from surrounding Bunong hill tribes,” he said. “The contract we have with them to halt logging and use it as an elephant sanctuary is verified by the Mondulkiri Governor.”

John Barker, head of India and China Programs at WWF-UK, said: “This ill-conceived road development will exert a huge negative impact, not only on the whole range of biodiversity, but the ecological services the forest provides the region.”

He said decisions over road through wilderness areas should “be made based on consideration of the full range of social, environmental and economic costs of infrastructure development.”

Tigers vs. Roads

Recently, the Cambodian government selected Mondulkiri as the site of a planned tiger reintroduction program. Now, this plan conflicts with the plan to cut a road through the middle of Mondulkiri’s wildlife sanctuary. 

Tom Gray, manager of Species Conservation for WWF Greater Mekong, spoke of his fears to the Sunday Express newspaper: “The key to ensuring a successful tiger reintroduction is to keep the landscape as intact and unfragmented as possible, which means no border crossing and no road.” 

Widespread deforestation and poaching have driven many of Cambodia’s endangered species to seek sanctuary in Mondulkiri’s lush, dense forests. Now, the future of Cambodia’s most iconic species hangs in the balance: the country’s national bird, the Giant Ibis, is at risk of extinction. 

Another national icon, the Banteng, is one of Cambodia’s most endangered species. In just 50 years, this species of wild cattle has declined by more than 80 percent. 

These gentle giants used to roam from India to Indonesia. Now they are reduced to small patches of forest in Cambodia, Borneo and Java. Today, just 5,000 Banteng are estimated to live in the Mondulkiri forest. They are prized by poachers. 

The proposed road will not only endanger the animals living in Mondulkiri. Carlos Drews, director of WWF’s Global Species Program, said: “Along with sheltering so many threatened species, these forests support the livelihoods of local communities as well as providing ecosystem services, such as clean water and air, for people across Cambodia.”

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