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Asia

Cambodian wildlife endangered by land concessions

In Cambodia, land concessions and poaching are threatening wildlife and biodiversity, according to experts. The biggest problem thereby is government policy.

Experts say wildlife and biodiversity throughout the world are rapidly decreasing. Many countries are experiencing problems caused by illegal hunting and also a loss of habitat.

However, Cambodia has a unique story. While the government is cracking down on wildlife crimes, it has also been selling off protected wildlife sanctuaries to private agro-industrial firms.

Land concessions

Chut Wutty

Environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot dead in April, 2012

Cambodia has two main areas for the protection of tigers and biodiversity - the Cardamom Mountain range and the Eastern Plains. However, the tranquility of these areas is now threatened. Recently, the government opened 23 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in 13 conservation areas to bidding by investment firms, according to a report by Licadho, a Cambodian human rights group.

The report further stated that the Cambodian government granted economic land concessions to more than 200 firms over the past decade and that the concessions covered 22 percent of the country's surface. It affected hundreds of thousands of families, wildlife and biodiversity.

Mark Wright of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cambodia told DW that the intact Eastern Plains which - which is regarded as an optimal place for the recovery of the country's tiger and elephant populations - is under threat from national and international agriculture companies.

"Recently, there have been a series of economic land concessions granted within protected areas," said Wright.

"Even if the concessions are small, these will pose threats to biodiversity protection."

Kry Masphal, tiger expert of the Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Cambodian wildlife was confronted with shrinking habitats and poaching. However, he also defended government land concession policies.

"Land concessions are not done arbitrarily; it started after clear studies on wildlife and biodiversity," he said.

"The concession is made only to land with barren trees, not to the jungle."

However, rights groups along with the open source Open Development Cambodia website came up with maps showing land concessions across Cambodia, showing that some are well inside wildlife protected areas.

A woman cuts sugarcane near a lake

Land is being sold off for agricultural purposes

Wright said the conflict between development and the endangered species conservation effort could be reduced if the government had "careful planning and a long-term vision."

"We are urging the Cambodian Government to fast-track the process of developing and implement zoning plans for protected areas in order to protect areas of high biodiversity values prior to any new decisions on land concessions," he said.

Poaching

Wildlife trade is a big business in some Asian countries where the use of traditional medicine containing ingredients made from animal parts is common. In July the WWF ranked Vietnam "the worst country" in terms of wildlife crimes. The other biggest consumer countries of wild animal products were China and Thailand, according to the report.

"Illegal hunting has probably already extirpated Cambodia's national animal, the Kouprey and puts pressure on all wildlife species," said Wright, pointing out that officials still needed to do a lot for the protection of animals and biodiversity.

However, Masphal is optimistic about the measure the government has implemented to curb wildlife crimes so far.

"We recruit those poachers to be our wildlife rangers. We also have law enforcement team who check houses and restaurants so that those people have to respect laws," he told DW.

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