Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has authorised the felling of about 9,000 hectares of protected forest for a new rubber plantation in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
The concession was signed only days after the Prime Minister, in an address to students, said the government would strive to protect Cambodia’s natural forests against overdevelopment and rubber plantations.
Cambodia’s largest protected area
Virachey National Park is Cambodia’s largest protected area, spanning some 332,500 hectares. It is also listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park. The protected area has suffered from illegal logging in the past, and the World Bank has invested around $5 million into tackling this threat.
The wildlife of Virachey National Park have been little studied, but a survey in 2007 found evidence of healthy populations of dholes, gaurs, buff-cheeked gibbons, stump-tailed macaques, Asiatic black bears, Malayan sun bears, and Asian short-clawed otters. The short survey also found a number of species that may be unknown to science.
Local groups criticise government’s contradictions
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc, said that the government has denounced the felling of protected forest for rubber plantations in the past, but that this is contradictory to what they are doing now.
“Cutting some part of Vereak Chey National Park may not affect villagers, but it seriously affects the forest and this province will lose even more forest land,” he said.
This news comes after Cambodian villagers, fighting to save their forest in Prey Lang from rubber companies, were rebuked by the local government, and soon after a titanium mine was granted in the Cardamom landscape, the ‘world’s most threatened forest’.
Ratanakkiri provincial governor, Pav Hamphan, said the national park is a private area and no villagers would be affected by the concession. “If the government grants an economic land concession to this private company, it is good because that area is uninhabited, so when the company comes to invest they will also construct a road,” he said.
Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author