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Bokor National Park

Posted in Landscapes, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The vast forested area of Bokor National Park in the Elephant Mountains is a last refuge for a great, but decreasing number of animals. Among them are many species who are unique here.

The highest point of the 140,000 hectares big National Park is Bokor Mountain at the Hill Station (1,079m above sea level), which is close to the open sea at the Gulf of Thailand. A steep edge separates the forest from the more urbanised coastal stripe in the southwest.

In the north it’s neighbouring the Cardamon Mountains (Kravanh Mountains), a much bigger mountain complex. Together these mountains form the last big area of remaining tropical rain forest in Cambodia.

Among the wide variety of animals in the park are Asian elephants, maybe some of the last Indochinese tigers, leopards, Asiatic black bears as Malayan sun bears, gibbon monkeys as well as the notorious macaques, rare slow lorises, different kind of deer, pangolins and many, many more. Among the almost 300 bird species are also several types of hornbills. I think not few of the animals in Kampot zoo are poor fellows who were rescued by the park rangers in the past and brought there because they were injured and ned care…

Hiking in Bokor National Park

Bokor National Park is of a big size. Hiking there in the forest is dangerous for some reasons. One can get easily lost in the unknown terrain, one can have an accident and needs help. Meeting dangerous animals like snakes or big wild cats is possible, but a rather smaller risk compared with an encounter with poachers or illegal loggers. These guys can play quite rough, are armed and might use their weapons, because they don’t like witnesses.

From the wartime there might be still Khmer Rouge land mines in the remoter parts of the forest. Besides, when planning to penetrate the National Park somewhat deeper it requires the organization of a tent and supplies.

In the past it was easy to organize hiking tours up to Bokor Hill Station and a bit around. Mostly they just followed the old road and it was a comparably easy walk. Now it’s difficult to organize guided tours into the forest. Walking up the road is no big fun; it’s asphalt and there is traffic. There is another way following partially the Popokvil stream through the jungle. It’s possible to get a guide for that.

Threats for the Park

In global comparison Cambodia has one of the world’s worst deforestation rates. While in 1970 Cambodia was covered by some 80% with jungle, it decreased to estimated 3% in the recent years. A forest cover survey in 2005 revealed that Cambodia lost 29% of it’s primary rainforest within five years only.

The forest destroying industries find the easiest access to the jungle in the lowlands, where they accomplish their work first with the lowest investment costs and the roughest methods as violent land grabbing. Now the last remaining refuges in mountainous areas are under severe attack.

Just nine years ago Bokor was one of Cambodia’s best protected national parks. It was listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park, and a number of independent conservation groups spent their resources into it’s protection. A certain cooperation with the Cambodian government was given.

The Bokor National Park is part of the Elephant Mountains (Damrei Mountains) and bordering the Kirirom National Park further north. Now both parks are separated from each other by a main road connecting Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. The road cuts the territories of species and gives easier access to natural areas who were formerly hard to reach. Poachers and illegal loggers take advantage from that.

Illegal Logging

Since Bokor is home to a number of rare or even unique plants and wildlife such as blackwood, rosewood and aloewood, it’s an attractive target for poachers. It’s possible to reach high prices for seldom species on the black markets. Poachers and illegal loggers make much more money with that than they could ever earn by doing a conventional job in the local economy.

To protect Bokor a conservation programme called ‘Surviving Together’ was implemented in the year 2000. Surviving Together provided training and support for 55 park rangers. The rangers guarded Bokor’s forests and confiscated chainsaws, destroyed poachers camp’s and charcoal kilns and they removed thousands of snares from the forest every year. A dangerous job, because poachers are armed and not just willing to retreat when a ranger tells them to.

Despite their efforts the problems in the park increased. Larger numbers of illegal chainsaws were found every year. In 2007 alone 153 chainsaws were confiscated.

A single chainsaw costs between 200 and 800 dollars. That’s a considerable investment for a villager, but a cubic metre of blackwood or rosewood sold on the black market therefore brings already an equivalent of the money back. A single chainsaw user can fell and cut four or five trees a day. In whole Bokor National Park are estimated 150 chainsaws in use for illegal logging. Since the villagers who perform the logging themselves don’t have access to the black market for timber, they cooperate with middlemen from outside. Probably most of them are also equipped by these outsiders. And these ‘outsiders’ are not seldom networks in the army, police, politics, cooperating with normal businessmen who do the laundry work.

In the rural parts around the Bokor Mountain massive are estimated 50,000 people living. Since ever they lived from the forest resources, collecting wood and plants, hunting, also logging in a moderate scale. This model was sustainable for thousands of years. Just since the second half of the 20th century the equilibrium is out of balance. More and more is taken out and can’t recover in time.

Population growth and particularly poverty are the reasons for the overcrop, so far it concerns the simple people in the villages and hamlets. They even lack basics as clean water, food and healthy housing. When it comes to the networks and companies behind them, it’s all about profit and money making for those who are rich anyway. The trouble for the villagers is that the process destroys their ecological and economic basics, while big money just moves to another place after one is wrecked down.

Back in time, before the invention of chainsaws it took several men a week of work to cut down and prepare a single big, old tree. Now, equipped with a chainsaw, a single logger does that work within an hour.

By the way, when moving around up on Bokor Hill Station and the wider surrounding one does not see a single old, giant jungle tree anymore. The remaining forest there is all young, most of it of the same age and height, secondary forest it seems or remaining primary forest, while the ‘best pieces’ have been cut out. The remaining old trees grow in steep slope positions, unaccessable for the loggers. Some are to see when coming the new road up to Bokor Mountain.

The Park Rangers…

The Wildlife Alliance has payed salaries and training for the park rangers for many years. The support also covered trucks, radios, more equipment and the ranger station on Bokor Hill.

In 2008, when the Sokimex Group took over the National Park in a 99 years lease contract from the government, the rangers were displaced from the Hill Station down to the entrance point to Bokor at the foot of the mountain.

There was not even a consultation with the Wildlife Alliance when doing that. Superfluous to add, that the rangers can not do their job properly anymore. As a reaction to that, the Wildlife Alliance suspended all their payments and support for the rangers.

Compared to the building activities on Bokor now, the illegal logging caused comparably limited damage to the nature. Now some ten percent of the National Park is getting logged legally and a new city, designed for a 100,000 people, is getting built within the National Park. This cancer might grow in the future, when big money develops more investment opportunities.

Know…

This is only a part of the richly illustrated article ‘Bokor’. Read here the whole article on Bokor National Park.

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