It may surprise some to learn that Cambodia boasts no fewer than seven national parks and nine animal sanctuaries. However, protection of habitats is not new in Cambodia. Prior to 1957, about one third of the country had been subjected to the some form of inventory and classified into 173 forest reserves and six wildlife reserves. Many sites recently declared protected areas were well known to Cambodian society as places of recreation and nature conservation early in the century. A 10,800-hectare area around Angkor temples was declared a national park in 1925, the first in Southeast Asia.
In 1993, King Norodom Sihanouk decreed a new National Protected Areas System, giving the Ministry of Environment authority to supervise, develop, and manage an area of more than 3 million hectares in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture. The System designated seven national parks, nine wildlife sanctuaries, three protected landscapes, and three multiple-use management areas – fragile and critical habitats constituting a total of 19 percent of the country. From mangrove swamps and flooded forests, to jungle and deciduous woodland, a wide range of local flora and fauna can still be found.
And for lovers of nature, a fascinating range of diversity awaits.
For the Cambodian people, however, their beautiful country is more than just terrain; it is a central part of their way of life. The landscapes of Cambodia have provided the Cambodian people with a wealth of natural resources for many centuries – by way of illustration, of the 2,300 species of plant described in Cambodia, approximately 40 percent have a traditional use, primarily as food and medicine. These resources remain of fundamental importance to the subsistence of Cambodian predominantly rural population.
To ensure that they remain for the benefit of future generations, but still continue to sustain the people for whom self-sufficiency is the only possible way of life, therefore requires a harmonious partnership – between local people, government bodies, conservation organisations and commercial operations such as travel companies. Local ways of life have remained for generations; the real threat is the businessmen – the logging companies, the luxury resort owners. The popular adage “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” is never truer than in a place that is poised on the brink of discovery by the consumerist world
As Buddha said, “The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its live activity; it offers protection to all beings and shade even to those who destroy it,”
Let us strive never to forget, and always to be in awe of the fragile beauty that is nature.