Cardamom Mountains Field Report

Date: August 11, 2023

Fostering collaborative conservation in Cardamom

A small team from LLF recounts a recent visit to Central Cardamom Mountains National Park, a legacy landscape in Cambodia. After experiencing the mountainous rainforest and meeting with staff and locals on the ground, the team departed feeling optimistic about the future of conservation efforts in the region.

Wild Encounters

As we ventured into the Cardamom Mountains legacy landscape, we found ourselves surrounded by a vast expanse of rich rainforest. Given the abundance of foliage, it came as no surprise that the national park is remarkably intact: 95 per cent of the forest remains undisturbed by human activity. 

Upon entering the national park, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of a pond that serves as a breeding site for the rare Siamese crocodile. Sadly, this freshwater species is already extinct in 99 per cent of its former range. Due to its scarcity in the wild, it is one of the least studied crocodiles in the world. As we observed one of its last remaining habitats, we learnt about the ongoing efforts to preserve the species.

Continuing our journey, we were startled by a chorus of slow, drawn-out whooping noises. These were the calls of pileated gibbons echoing in the trees around us. The monochrome primates are unfortunately also under threat due to habitat destruction, but the Cardamom Mountains region still provides a home to an estimated 20,000 individuals.

During our visit to the ranger stations, we witnessed first-hand the commitment of local rangers in their fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The confiscated snares and guns displayed in a dedicated room highlighted the severity of these threats. It was evident to us that the team were eager to learn, professionalize their approach, and increase their capacity for protecting the Cardamom’s rare biodiversity.

Strong Partnerships

Our journey took us beyond the park’s boundaries as we visited nearby villages and met with local chiefs and communities. We visited a butterfly reserve managed by three enterprising sisters who shared their experiences of breeding pupae with the aim of selling them to butterfly farms, zoos, and botanical gardens around the world. The business faced setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to the challenges of transporting butterflies with a short lifespan. Thankfully, conservation programs from the park are supporting the business to get back on its feet.

One aspect of the field trip that struck us was the effective collaboration between Conservation International (CI) and local communities. CI’s human-centred approach to conservation has fostered strong relationships with the communities surrounding the park. We had the privilege of engaging in meaningful conversations with CI’s local staff, witnessing their clear vision for the park’s development and their dedication to building a sustainable future for wildlife and people alike.

Our field trip to the Cardamom Mountains did not run without a hitch. We unfortunately witnessed the aftermath of a bridge collapse, which blocked some routes to the park. Despite such hurdles, we were deeply impressed by the commitment of local staff, the dedication of the rangers, and the potential for alternative livelihood programs in the neighbouring villages. 

Seeing this important work first-hand reinforced the value of collaborative conservation approaches, and we departed with the conviction that, with continued support and investment, the natural beauty of the Cardamom Mountain region will be safeguarded for generations to come.

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