Thursday, January 31, 2008
The wild of Cambodian dry forests - by Tep Asnarith, WWF
It was inside the Cambodian dry forests where Sophoan, Porny, Soeun and Asnarith, all from WWF Cambodia’s head office, spent four nights in early December to participate in a team building workshop, organized annually by the Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP) this time at its Mreuch headquarter, as they respectively gave presentations about WWF and financial policy and guidelines, and in particular to see for themselves the beauty of the unique Cambodian dry forests and the magnificent wildlife it harbors. The forests are located in the east of the country in Mondulkiri province and are one of the WWF’s important protected areas, called Mondulkiri Protected Forest (MPF).All of them joined WWF within the least one or two years and used to hear project staff describe and tell stories about the area, project activities, things that happen in and around the landscape. They had only seen the forest and wildlife from photos and other visual materials. This was the time they were able to admire these significant flora and fauna of the Cambodian Eastern Plains for themselves. “These forests are absolutely splendid! It is so exciting to be here in the middle of such a wonderful landscape,” said Soeun, former admin and finance manager. “What we use to hear about the area and see from photos has almost nothing to compare with what we see and learn in reality. Tall canopy trees with similar spacing between and diverse grass types in the ground layer make this whole area the most incredible forest landscape I have ever seen,” he said. “We now know what we are working hard everyday for and the reason why WWF is making great efforts to protect this beautiful dry forest and the globally significant wildlife it supports. Also we understand better why we help the Cambodian government and local communities sustainably manage these valuable natural resources, on which Cambodian generations including ethnic Phnong depend for many years,” he added.
Dry forest, or deciduous dipterocarp forest, consists of large tropical hardwood trees that are long-lived and can grow up to 30 meters high. It has an open canopy and grassy understorey. Despite the name, the dry forest is wet too because of its incredible rainy season where 90% of the annual rain falls in just seven months (May-November). Many of these trees are prized for their timber. The fruits of dipterocarp trees have conspicuous long wings (sepals) to aid in dispersal by wind.Despite years of war and isolation, the Cambodian dry forests are still relatively intact and provide home to one of the most diverse large mammal communities in Asia, including key species such as Tiger, Gaur, Banteng, Wild Water Buffalo, Asian Elephant, Leopard, as well as bird species such as Great Hornbill, Green Peafowl, White-rumped and Red Headed Vultures. According to the most recent research as part of wildlife monitoring annually conducted by the SWAP team, all of these bird species have been directly sighted, while tracks of Tiger, Leopard and other large mammals have also been recorded. At the same time, the result of the research confirmed the presence of Eld’s Deer and Douc Langur in the area. “Look there, three of them, those are Eld’s Deer!,” Sophoan, finance officer, shouted from the back of an elephant during a morning ride into the landscape as she wanted other colleagues to follow what she had spotted. “The mahout told us that those Eld’s Deer we have just seen were all males and that we were lucky to see them during such a short elephant ride. Project rangers and mahouts normally spend longer time to be able to sight wildlife,” she said. “Beside Eld’s Deer, we also saw wild pigs, around ten of them running so fast trying to escape from us and our elephants, as well as birds coming to small ponds for water,” Porny, communications officer, described to other colleagues when returning to Mreuch office after she dismounted from the back of the elephant.
The connection of these forests with one of the important Mekong river tributaries, the Srepok river, makes the whole area one of the most outstanding habitats in the region for large waterbird populations. Its seasonal wetlands provide breeding grounds for threatened species including the White-shouldered Ibis, Black-necked Stork, Giant Ibis, Sarus Crane and Greater and Lesser Adjutant. “Based on the results of our latest research, the project counts significant numbers of waterbirds including 19 Sarus Crane, 18 Giant Ibis, as well as 74 Woolly-necked Storks,” said Sopheak, senior SWAP officer. While wild cattle, large cats and birds still roam the surrounding plains, the Srepok river itself stands out as special and unique in the Greater Mekong Area as it boasts some subpopulations of at least 140 Mekong fish species including the 2.5-foot giant carp, a close relative of the Mekong giant catfish, and hosts an immense diversity of aquatic life including the critically endangered Siamese crocodile. The exotic fish the river teems with are a very important food and water source and constitute in the river catchment nearly 90% of the animal protein supply of the local people. Attempting to retain their cultural and agricultural practices, a remarkable diversity of minority ethnic groups, including Phnong, Tampuan, Kraol, Thmon, Jarai, Kreung and Stieng, as well as Khmer, Cham, Chinese and Lao living throughout the Cambodian Eastern Plains landscape, are heavily reliant on the area's natural resources, including forests where they collect non-timber forest products. The Phnong is the largest group. And like many groups who live in the dry forests in Mondulkiri province, they collect liquid resin from certain trees. Natural resources support development in many ways. Ecosystem services, like the provision of clean surface water from protected upper watersheds, are an undervalued, but vital benefit of healthy natural areas. Local people rely on plants, animals and fish for subsistence needs, and ensuring the sustainability of these harvests is the first step towards greater development. Some kinds of natural resources also can be sustainably managed for commercial uses. Nature tourism has great potential in the dry forests if wildlife populations recover. In many of the more open patches of the dry forest mosaic landscape, key wildlife species could be viewed as easily as in the great game parks of Africa, India, and Sri Lanka, if their numbers were restored. Together with government and NGO partners, WWF is working towards finding a balance between development and conservation, for the long-term benefit of the people, plants and animals which share this globally significant ecoregion. “WWF Cambodia’s SWAP is implementing a very successful Southern African approach to protected area management in the MPF in Cambodia’s Eastern Plains landscape. The project’s main objectives are to protect and conserve plants, country’s rare and endangered wild animals including large mammals and large water birds, and water sources; while at the same time promote sustainable use of natural resources and ecotourism,” Sopheak said. Link: WWF.
Cambodian conservation work – not just a man’s world - by Porny You, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)
Women are working as hard and sweating as much as the men in WWF conservation programs in remote areas of Kampuchea. In WWF-Cambodia’s Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP), in the country’s eastern plains, Khmer, foreign and local indigenous Phnong women play a vital role in preserving the Mondulkiri Protected Forest (MPF). Hy Somaly, a Phnong indigenous woman, joined SWAP’s Community Extension Team to inform and educate the indigenous community on the importance of wildlife conservation. “I have to go to different communities to inform and educate them on how to improve their livelihoods with sustainable natural resources use”, she explains. It is testament to Somaly’s skills and talents that she can work across three cultures – her own, Khmer and that of her foreign colleagues. Her Khmer colleague, Att Sreynak, a data assistant with the Srepok project, notes that though Khmer and Phnong people have different traditions, they can work together very effectively to reach the projects goals. “Luckily Somaly can speak Khmer, so there is no language barrier between her and other colleagues”, she says.Sreynak is no stranger to hard work on the project. While collecting data, she often has to walk long distances into the forest. She acknowledges it is quite demanding, but would never let the mainly male ranger team that accompanies her know. “Even though the conditions can be quite bad, especially in the rainy season – we would never give up – because we are responsible for getting the job done”, she says.
As SWAP has planned to develop its site for ecotourism, Olga van den Pol has been a recent new female addition to team, joining as ecotourism team leader. Originally from Holland and fluent in many languages, she is still struggling with the Khmer language. “Though I cannot speak Khmer language, I can ask for help from any Khmer colleagues who can interpret for me. The system works and we recently had a reward from our conservation efforts with the “capture” by a camera trap, of one tiger we knew was in the forest, but which we had not seen for two years. It was good to know it was still thriving in the forest area we are protecting and developing”, she explains. She hoped, as a result of WWF-Cambodia’s work in this area, that wildlife populations would increase and alternative livelihoods could be developed to reduce the local communities’ dependence on natural resource use. The MPF is a quiet place with fresh air and bird sounds, where some people wish to visit or stay at for a while for pleasure. However, as it has not yet been developed as an ecotourism site, it also can be considered as a dangerous place, in particular for women who live there for work. All rangers and police have to leave their posts to go patrolling – leaving only women, who are chef and cleaners at the posts. According to Keo Sopheak, senior SWAP officer, women do not dare to walk at night around in the open, because they are afraid of dangerous wildlife. “I can not blame them as in the past we have seen tiger tracks around the camp sites. It is not only wildlife that is dangerous, humans can be worse with hunters and poachers who might take the opportunity to visit the post sites while the rangers and police are not there”, he said. “Though they feel scared, these women never ever give up their work. They all play a vital role in supporting WWF-Cambodia’s conservation work by keeping our staff strong and healthy. Working in the hard conditions of the forest might seem like a job more suited to a man, but in the SWAP, the women play just as important a role at every level of our conservation work”, Sopheak says. Link: WWF.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
This reclining Buddha is flanked by two nagas, a small stone lion and several severed heads
Another colourful shrine on top of Phnom Thom with a stone bed
A small open-air shrine at the foot of the hill, contained within a separate laterite prasat
A more classical Buddhist pose for this Neak Ta at the foot of the hill
Some examples of his work and other artists on his stall at Angkor Wat
More paintings on sale at Pisey's stall, from $25 and upwards
Fresh-faced Pisey holds up an example of his art at his Angkor Wat stall
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that I now work for Hanuman Tourism in Phnom Penh. One of our more mundane tasks is to try and keep track of the myriad number of international border crossings that seem to open up almost on a monthly basis in recent times! It sounds easy enough but believe me, it ain't. Cambodia shares a border with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodian visas are available at all land borders with Laos and Thailand, but only two of the land borders with Vietnam. They are not currently available at Phnom Den. Here's a look at the international border crossings currently in operation. There are dozens of 'locals-only' border crossings between all the countries.
The only border crossing with Cambodia is at Voen Kham (L). Confusingly there are two Cambodian posts that service this crossing, which connects Si Phan Don in southern Laos to Stung Treng (C): one on the river (Koh Chheuteal Thom) and one on the new road to Stung Treng (Dom Kralor). The river route is rarely used these days, as minibuses ply the road.
There are now as many as six land crossings between Thailand and Cambodia, but only two are popular with travellers. The border at Aranya Prathet (T) to Poipet (C) is frequently used to travel between Bangkok (T) and Siem Reap (C). Down on the coast, crossings can be made from Hat Lek (T) to Cham Yeam (C) by road, which connects to Koh Kong (C) and on to Sihanoukville (C) or Phnom Penh (C).
There are also three more remote crossings, which see little traffic: Chong Jom (T) in Surin Province to O Smach (C), connecting with Samraong (C); Choam Sa-Ngam (T) to Choam (C), leading to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng (C); and Ban Pakard (T) to Pruhm (C) leading to Pailin (C). Bear in mind that road conditions on the Cambodian side are pretty poor.
There is also a border at Prasat Preah Vihear (C), the stunning Cambodian temple perched atop Phnom Dangkrek mountain range. This is currently just a day crossing for tourists wanting to visit the temple from the Thai side, but may open up as a full international border in the near future.
There are new border-crossing options opening up every five minutes! The most popular option is the road border linking Moc Bai (V) and Bavet (C) for quick passage between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. The most evocative route is the river crossing linking Chau Doc (V) to Phnom Penh (C) via the Mekong border at Vinh Xuong (V) and Kaam Samnor (C). There is also the rarely used option of Tinh Bien (V) to Phnom Den (C) that connects Chau Doc (V) and Takeo (C). More recently, there is the new border at Xa Xia (V) and Prek Chak (C) linking Ha Tien (V) and the island of Phu Quoc (V) with the popular Cambodian destinations of Kep (C) and Kampot (C). Finally, there is a new border just opened in remote Ratanakiri at Le Tanh (V) and O'Yadaw (C) which links Pleiku (V) with Ban Lung (C).
Tourist visas, costing US$20 and requiring one photo, are available on arrival at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports and all land border crossings except the Phnom Den/Tinh Bien border crossing with Vietnam.
It is also possible to arrange a visa through Cambodian embassies overseas or an online e-visa (US$25) through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: here. Arranging a visa ahead of time can help prevent potential overcharging at some land crossings. However, this e-visa cannot be processed at certain land border crossings. Anyone planning an extended stay should get a one-month business visa for US$25, as these are easier to renew.
A monk inspects the 8-armed Vishnu at the entrance gopura to Angkor Wat. The original head of this statue was re-attached in 2004.
Talking of heads, the giant's head was detached by an arrow on this painting on the wall of the pagoda's vihara next to the Angkor Wat causeway
Respected historian Ang Choulean at the Hanuman Annual Party, introducing his latest work, Khmer Renaissance
The unusual laterite hilltop temple at Prasat Premea Cheung Prey, a few kilometres from Skun
The east section of the bridge showing the corbel arch and the embankment faced with laterite blocks to deter slippage
A gormless tourist who got in the way of my photo - oh so predictable!
A lion-headed kneeling Asura demon guardian from the 10th century Banteay Srei temple
A lion from the 12th century temple of Banteay Kdei
One of the demons, with a typical grimace and headdress, from one of the entrance gates to Angkor Thom. Hundreds of these original sandstone heads are in storage at Angkor Conservation.
The new Art of Survival exhibition at Meta House made the headlines yesterday in Reuters Life! It opened on 24 January with over 20 Cambodian artists, including Vann Nath, Chhim Sothy, Hen Sophal, Vandy Rattana, Prum Vichet and more, reflecting on the genocide of the Pol Pol regime.
Pol Pot artist links past to present with "Art of Survival" - by Chantha Lach
Cambodian artist Van Nath's talents saved his life in the 1970s, when he was forcibly put to work painting pictures of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. Now the artist, one of a handful of remaining survivors of the regime's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, hopes his latest works will expose the reality of Pol Pot's rule to a new generation. On show at Phnom Penh gallery Meta House as part of the "Art of Survival" exhibition, his paintings of prison life are aimed at helping visitors deal with the trauma of the Khmer Rouge's 1974-1979 rule, when an estimated 1.7 million people were executed or died of starvation, torture or disease. But they also hold a mirror up to the present, said Van Nath, throwing the treatment of Khmer Rouge officials currently on trial for crimes during Pol Pot's rule, including "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, who has been linked to Tuol Sleng, into sharp relief. "If I compare the prison where I was to Nuon Chea prison, it is very different. The prison at the Khmer Rouge court is very good. It has televisions, electricity, mattresses and they have enough food to eat," he told Reuters."At the prison where I was, I was in handcuffs 24 hours a day with no food and no medicine. Now even with today's good prisons, prisoners can still ask to be released on bail. They complain that they cannot stay there. But what about me and the nearly 20,000 people who were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng?" Van Nath said.
An estimated 17,000 to 20,000 Cambodians were crammed into Tuol Sleng, also called "Security Prison 21" or "S-21" under the Khmer Rouge, a black-shirted communist guerrilla movement who declared war on modernity after overrunning Phnom Penh in 1975. They were ousted four years later by a Vietnamese invasion.Of the tens of thousands accused of betraying the regime at Tuol Sleng, only a dozen are known to have made it out. The plain three-storied high school building, in a quiet quarter of the capital, is now a public memorial site and museum. It draws thousands of visitors every year, as do the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, about 15 kilometres (9 miles) out of the capital, where the remains of many of Tuol Sleng's victims are buried in mass graves. But some worry the country has not yet processed the trauma of the Pol Pot years, even as high-profile trials of former officials, including Tuol Sleng's former governor, Khang Khekh Ieu, or "Duch", make their way through a United Nations tribunal. This is where artists such as Van Nath can contribute, said Metahouse gallery owner Nicolas Mesterharm. "The young generation we work with knows a little bit, so we try to educate them and we try to bring young and older artists together," German-born Mesterharm told Reuters. "We try to address that issue of genocide and the Khmer Rouge atrocities through art within the society that has not learnt yet to speak openly about what happened 25 years ago," he said. A number of international documentaries and films, such as the 1984 Oscar-winning "Killing Fields", have brought the country's violent past to international audiences. And several memoirs written by survivors of the regime sell at tourist sites such as Angkor Wat in the country's north, and Phnom Penh. But book sellers often say they have not read the English-language stories themselves. For many young Cambodians, like student Sar Sayana, exhibitions such as the Art of Survival give a more accessible window to the past."It is important that these artist know what happened and that they made this exhibition so that others can know all about it too," she said, walking through the gallery.
Monday, January 28, 2008
This was part of the crowd of children that saw us off at Kohak Nokor
Detail from the giant Nagas at Spean Praptos. Considering their age, the bridge and its Nagas are in fantastic condition
One of the lions from Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, on show at the new Angkor National Museum
At our food stop in Kompong Thom, I popped to see Sokhom's daughter, Kunthea (right) and her friend Pisey. Sokhom was with a tourist at Sambor Prei Kuk.
Another stop en route was at Spean Praptos, the best example of an Angkorean bridge in Cambodia at Kompong Kdei. The main road has been diverted away from the bridge to protect it.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
One of the few pieces of the ornately carved wooden ceiling from a gallery at Angkor Wat (Fournereau)
Strong women in Cambodia are an absolute MUST for the future of this country. The story of 4 such women, leading the way for change in Cambodia, are featured on the CARE website
here. CARE are a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE's community-based efforts to improve basic education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Bosba takes time out to sign copies of her CD