In Koh Kong Province, there is a project looking to tackle the root causes of environmental degradation and give tourists an unprecedented opportunity to experience Cambodia’s incredible natural beauty
Cambodia is home to beautiful landscapes and an incredible plethora of unique wildlife. The nation’s ecological wonders are also under a constant threat from development, poaching and unchecked resource extraction, however, there are efforts across the country to ensure the protection and preservation of Cambodia’s natural wealth for the next generation.
In the Cardamom Mountains, home to one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining contiguous rainforests, there is a project providing a perfect example of the challenges facing Cambodia’s natural ecosystems and the efforts to protect them. Since 2016, the Steung Areng Community-Based Ecotourism Project (STAR-CBET) has been offering an alternative vision of resource management that provides meaningful livelihoods to local residents and protects this vitally important ecosystem.
According to the Wildlife Alliance, a key partner of the Steung Areng Valley communities, the area is home to more than 50 species listed as threatened on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Due to the demand for these rare and precious animals in traditional medicine as well as for bushmeat and the exotic pet trade, poaching continues to threaten their numbers. At the same time, the area’s wealth of valuable hardwoods is a constant target of illegal loggers looking to cash in on the demand for luxury wood.
These two drivers of eco-crimes are often the result of local people having no choice but to make money however they can, turning to illegal activity out of desperation. This reality is at the centre of STAR-CBET’s strategy to protect these resources. By recruiting local residents – many of whom previously participated in these illegal activities – to be tour guides and stewards, the program is able to impact the actual cause of the issue by providing the livelihoods that can change behaviours.
Today, three communes made up of 8 villages are part of the program, giving tourists a taste of traditional village life and the opportunity to experience the Steung Areng Valley while helping to preserve the area’s natural beauty. Visitors can take part in a variety of activities, from leisurely jaunts through jungle tracks that will have them home by dark to multi-day motorbike excursions into some of the continent’s most remote rainforests.
Homestays with local residents give visitors a glimpse into daily life in a way that hotels and guest houses simply cannot replicate. Guests travelling to the Areng Valley also have the option of camping in the area’s incredible natural environment. Whether it’s deep in the jungle, at the top of a mountain or overlooking raging rapids, the local landscape is the perfect setting for a night around the campfire and sleeping under the stars.
STAR-CBET demonstrates the potential of community-based conservation strategies by confronting the root causes of environmental destruction. Harnessing the value of local knowledge and providing alternative incomes to residents has created a new economy that values natural resources without destroying them. Instead, the people of Steung Areng Valley get to share the beauty of their forests and rivers with the world and protect their environment for the next generation.
This article is produced by Focus – Ready for Tomorrow in partnership with KampumEra.
This post is also available in: KH