The Northern Plains, a unique landscape that once covered much of Indochina, is one of the most spectacular and important biodiversity areas of Southeast Asia. With a protected area network spanning more than half a million hectares, the Northern Plains are home to in excess of 260 bird species and large mammals such as Asian Elephant, Banteng and Guar. In this sparsely populated landscape an intricate patchwork of community livelihoods, subsistence farming, cultural sites and conservation areas exist in this, the northernmost, province of Cambodia; a delicate balance of people and wild places.
Geographically situated along Cambodia’s northern border with Lao PDR and Thailand, the Northern Plains are flanked by the Mekong River to the East and the ancient Angkorian temple province of Siem Reap to the West. The major conservation areas, Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Prey Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary, Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary and Phnom Tbeng Natural Heritage Park are under the management of the Ministry of Environment.
This precarious equilibrium is easily shifted with threats ranging from small-scale hunting or land clearance, to large-scale commercial pressures such as mineral exploitation. A significant proportion of local people rely on farming and non-timber forest product collection for their income. With local people accessing the forest on a daily, and largely uninhibited scale, the pressure on natural resources is high. While law enforcement activities are conducted across the landscape, frequency and effectiveness of patrols is hindered by the sheer size of the protected area network.
Working closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia, WCS is constantly adapting to these threats; developing, testing and implementing key conservation approaches. Through initiatives such as payment for ecosystem services, communities are engaged and directly benefit from conservation. Land-use tenure and management planning for community use zones help to provide long term stability. Innovative conservation livelihoods linked to ecotourism and sustainable rice-farming provide income for people living in close proximity to wildlife and forests, thereby reducing the threat of illegal activity.