Extending across the southwest of Cambodia and eastern Thailand, the Cardamom Mountain range (Khmer: ជួរ ភ្នំក្រវាញ, Chuor Phnom Krâvanh) is the site for one of the largest and least explored tropical forests in Southeast Asia. Here, the humid climate has created ideal conditions for a rich variety of fauna, and it is estimated that the mountains are home to more than 100 mammals, including the clouded leopard, Asian wild dog, gaur, banteng, Malayan sun bear, pileated gibbon, Sumatran serow, sunda pangolin — all of whom, and more than 50 other mammals, are listed as threatened or vulnerable by the IUCN — and many more. The Cardamoms were also once roamed by the Indochine tiger, which was declared functionally extinct in Cambodia in 2016.
In the Cardamoms, flora and fauna alike face a wide range of threats including illegal logging, poaching, deforestation and forest fires caused by agricultural burning.
Openness to Ecotourism
The Cardamoms are still an emerging tourism destination, and for many this represents an alternative source of livelihood from any of the above activities, which can be difficult to arrest through a straight application of the law. Wildlife Alliance runs several projects in the Cardamoms, including Chi Phat Community Based Ecotourism in the village of Chi Phat, on the southeastern flank of the mountains. Previously a community of hunters and loggers, the villagers now earn a sustainable income through offering homestay accommodation, guiding single or multi-day hikes to natural and cultural sites, boat trips and bird watching.
Wildlife Alliance also operates a wildlife release station nearby, which is their principal release station for animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia. The project opened to tourists in December 2013, offering a glimpse into how a wildlife rehabilitation and release station operates, while also providing accommodation in dedicated chalets nearby. The activities on offer include feeding resident animals, jungle walks, radio tracking and setting camera traps for monitoring the released animals.
Around the nearby district of Sre Ambel, C4 Adventures Cambodia also offers a wide range of activities in the deep jungle, from family walks to adventure survival tours.
Your Stay Keeps the Forest Standing…
Under this slogan, Cardamom Tented Camp is an initiative uniting The Minor Group, YAANA Ventures and Wildlife Alliance that offers eco-friendly packages to adventure enthusiasts keen to take part in conservation work. This recent initiative was born out of concerns over a 18,000 hectare National Park, Botum Sakor, which is vulnerable to exploitation by loggers, poachers and sand dredgers. This area of land is home to pristine lowland and coastal habitats that connect wildlife corridors to the mountains.
“…The Cardamom Tented Camp and its operation will help to preserve the forest… we haven’t succeeded yet, but we hope that each visitor can help us, on the one hand to finance the conservation programme through their stay, and on the other to testify to the viability of this type of initiative, demonstrating that a well-managed ecotourism activity is a real solution to poaching and deforestation…”, said Willem Niemeijer, CEO of YAANA Ventures, the sustainable tourism company that helped to found the project. He added that all of the revenues from the project will be locally invested.
“The eco-camp is equipped with nine comfortable safari-type tents, with particular emphasis on keeping the environmental footprint as small as possible in order to serve as a model and promote sustainable tourism, explained Allan Michaud, a wildlife documentary filmmaker who helms the project. On the programme of activities, you can hike ancient poaching and logging trails guided by Wildlife Alliance rangers, trek through dense forest with the opportunity to observe macaques, elephants, pangolins, badgers and gibbons, and visits to ranger stations where a variety of confiscated traps and shotguns can be kept. After your hike, it is possible to canoe up the Preak Tachan River back to the tented camp.
Join a Patrol
Guests can also join the rangers on patrol during their stay. Each package includes breakfast, lunch and dinner at the restaurant on the side of the river, giving the opportunity to discover the area by themselves or in small groups, or simply to relax on the camp’s floating dock with a pair of binoculars to aid in spotting the hundreds of species of birds flitting by.
Luxury Tents and the Mark of Bensley
Presented as a private sanctuary surrounded by the jungles and waterfalls of Cambodia and a radical fusion of design, hospitality and conservation, Shinta Mani Wild is the latest exotic luxury project from Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley.
The resort has been selected by National Geographic as one of their Unique Lodges of the World, notable not only for the original transport on arrival — a zip-line — but for creating a context in which the “jungle feels like your own personal playground”.
The resort has set up a partnership with Wildlife Alliance, as well as some local poachers and loggers who have retrained as lodge naturalists, to help fund anti-poaching rangers. One of the most rewarding experiences for guests is joining them on patrol and taking part in the drive to help the jungle’s wildlife thrive.
Fly Over The Cardamoms
For those with the cash, Wildlife Alliance also offers a two-day, one-night programme which begins with a helicopter tour across the Cardamom Mountains. This is where Wildlife Alliance was able to intercept wildlife traffickers and protect this logging site. The helicopter then lands on a high plateau overlooking the forest, with the howling of the gibbons in the background. It’s a unique experience…
- Chi Phat
Tel: (+855) 92 720 925 – (+855) 35 500 0068
- Wildlife Alliance
Tel : (+855)-23-211-604 (+855)-23-211-672
- Cardamom Tented Camp
Tel: +855 23 215 970, +855 883 973791
- Shinta Mani Wild
Article first published in French by Cambodge Mag