A village meeting was held recently at Sambour village, a village that borders the Ang Trapeang Thmor Sarus Sarus Crane Reserve and Protected. This meeting was attended by the Sambour village chief, the commune chief, FA and WCS project staff, as well as around 100 villagers.
During this meeting, the concept of ecotourism and how the village could benefit from tourism in the future was discussed. This included introductory remarks from the commune chief, a talk about tourism in Sambour by the village chief, an introduction to ecotourism by the WCS ATT project manager, Hong Chamnan, and then a discussion lead by Hong Chamnan, WCS assistant project manager Ngin Kamsan and WCS technical advisor, Ashish John with the village. This included discussions on why tourists visit different sites, what tourists are attracted to in ATT (particularly what wildlife they are interested in seeing), whether tourists currently bring any benefits to villagers, and how tourism benefits villagers in other villages where there are established ecotourism projects.
The meeting concluded with the Sambour villagers voting that they would like to be involved in ecotourism at ATT, and a brief discussion of how this could be managed. It was decided that the village could be involved initially through the recruitment and training of some expert guides that would help to show tourist groups around the reserve. After that, a committee could be set up to help manage the tourism in the village, and other village activities could be expanded, such as the training of cooks to help prepare food for tourists.
The meeting was followed with discussions between the village chief and WCS staff on the meeting and the issues discussed, and what the next step would be involving the recruitment of expert guides in the village.
Tourists have been visiting ATT in increasing numbers over the last five years, particularly since SVC started bringing visitors to the site. In particular, tourists are attracted by the large numbers of Sarus cranes and other large water birds, breeding colonies of Painted stork and Spot-billed Pelican and recently tourists have frequently seen groups of a sub-species of the endangered Eld's deer, Rucervus eldii siamensis.
Currently, tourists visiting ATT are guided by SVC guides and local WCS staff. Now, with the help of a CEPF grant (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Funds), WCS aims to work together with SVC and Sambour village to increase the flow of benefits from ecotourism to Sambour village, by providing local employment through training local guides who will replace local WCS staff (leaving them to do their patrolling work). In addition, WCS aims to facilitate the creation of a Community Management Committee that will be responsible for the Community Development funds already being collected as park entrance fees by tourists, and eventually to train local cooks to provide food for tourists. These activities will be set up in similar ways to existing successful WCS ecotourism projects in Cambodia, such as those in Tmat Boey and Prey Veng.