Feb 16

The Cambodian government has granted approval to the United Khmer Group for a 20,400 hectare mining concession in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.

The decision to approve the mine threatens to devastate one of the last pristine areas of what Conservation International (CI) recently dubbed ‘the world’s most threatened forest’.

Considered a biodiversity hotspot, Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains support an incredible array of wildlife. The arrival of the mine will threaten one of the last remaining elephant corridors in Asia and put more than 70 endangered and vulnerable species at risk, as well as degrade one of the world’s largest remaining carbon sink reserves. Conservationists say the mine could particularly imperil freshwater species through pollution, such as the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile.

Photo of Siamese-crocodile basking

One of the most endangered crocodiles in the wild, the Siamese crocodile is a small, freshwater species that feeds mainly on fish.

Local opposition

Villages throughout the region are reliant on a burgeoning ecotourism trade, and residents are concerned that the presence of the mine will pollute rivers and drive away tourists, as well as impact on agricultural initiatives, forests, and vital elephant habitat.

Photo of Indian elephant bull

The population of Asian elephants has been decimated by habitat loss, and it is now considered Endangered.

Wildlife Alliance, a non-profit organisation based in Washington and Cambodia, has worked extensively with local communities in the Cardamom Mountains for nearly a decade to establish ecotourism. They are now leading the fight against the approval of the mine, representing the views of local communities.

Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of Wildlife Alliance said in a press release, “We recognize that development is essential to Cambodia’s future, but that development must be conducted in a coordinated matter that respects conservation initiatives.”

“This is Cambodia’s natural heritage, its national heritage, and it could all be eliminated by 20,400 hectares of strip mining.”

Minimising damage

With the mine approved by Cambodia’s prime minister, Wildlife Alliance is calling on the United Khmer Group to work closely with the Forestry Administration, conservation groups, and local communities to ensure that it mitigates the environmental impacts of its mining efforts.

“We ask that all industrial developers work closely with conservation partners in the southern Cardamom Mountains to minimize environmental damages associated with economic development. Together we can find solutions to maximize the earning potential of local people while diminishing the harm to wildlife and habitats, local rivers, and downstream fisheries” say Wildlife Alliance in their press release.

Photo of Malayan sun bear

The Malayan sun bear is just one of the species that may be affected by the new mining concession in the Cardamom Mountains.

However, Wildlife Alliance also continues to question how profitable the mine is likely to be. The United Khmer Group has projected revenues of $1.3 billion dollars a year, although it appears that these projections are based on titanium prices that are far above the current market rate. In addition, the group has yet to carry out a comprehensive study to determine the size and concentration levels of the titanium ore deposit in the Cardamom Mountain region.

“Without scientific research to prove the economic viability of the proposed mine, bulldozing the rainforest is simply destructive and does not even make good business sense,” Gauntlett says in a press release.

Visit the Wildlife Alliance website.

Explore the species of Cambodia on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author