Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary x

Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary (previously named Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area from 2002 to 2009, and Seima Protection Forest from 2009 to 2016) covers close to 300,000 ha in the east of Cambodia. This protected area is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, forest types, landscapes, and indigenous communities. Supported by WCS since before its inception in 2002, it is the site of the Keo Seima REDD+ project, one of Cambodia’s largest and most successful conservation programs.


KSWS is home to the highest number of species recorded in any protected area in Cambodia. More than 350 bird species have been observed across the rich mix of forest types found within KSWS, including 21 woodpecker species, the highest diversity of Picadae species in a single site known globally. KSWS is especially important for monkeys, lesser apes, lorises, with seven primate species living within the protected area boundaries. These include the world’s largest populations of the critically endangered black-shanked douc langur, a beautiful monkey with orange eye patches and a blue face, and of the endangered southern yellow-cheeked gibbon, who’s whale-like calls carry for kilometers across the forest in the early mornings. KSWS and the landscape around it are important for endangered Asian elephants, with KSWS being home to around a quarter of Cambodia’s remaining wild elephant population. 

More than 15 species new to science have been discovered within the protected area since it was established, and many more mysterious species await discovery. A total of 75 threatened species (classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List) have been recorded at the site, as well as 106 CITES listed species, and 46 species listed as Endangered or Rare under Cambodian law. KSWS has been identified as an important site for wildlife and biodiversity under numerous global prioritisation schemes, including Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) Standards Gold Level, Conservation International’s Biodiversity Hotspots, Endemic Bird Areas (EBA), Important Bird Areas (IBA), WWF’s Global 200 ecosystems, WCS’ Last of the Wild, and High Conservation Value Forest (HCV).


Mondulkiri is the ancestral home of the Bunong ethnic group, for whom the forest forms a deep and indivisible part of their culture, community, and identity. Predominantly animist, the Bunong rely on the forest for food, fuel, building materials, and spiritual sites. Most Bunong regularly use medicinal plants collected from the forest.


Tropical forests sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, and deforestation is one of the major causes of global carbon dioxide emissions. The KSWS REDD+ area holds more than 75 million tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to the total annual fossil CO2 emissions of New Zealand and Switzerland combined.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and is a front line in the fight to save wildlife, forests, forest-dependent indigenous communities, and reduce carbon emissions. Large scale deforestation within protected areas took place across the country between 2010 and 2014 as Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) were granted for large-scale agriculture. This program was halted and the issuing of new ELCs was stopped in 2012, but clearance has continued within and around existing concessions. Small-scale agriculture also plays a huge role in Cambodia, with more than 30% of total employment being within the agricultural sector. With a rapidly increasing population the demand for land is high, driven by cash crops such as cassava and cashew, as well as subsistence and mixed crops like rice. Illegal logging is intensive across the country, with high-value luxury timber species typically smuggled across the border to Vietnam, and a large proportion of the finished products sold in China. Poaching impacts wildlife directly, with snares being a common and devastating hunting method; snares set for common species such as wild pig can just as easily catch rare species that hunters never intended to target, such as young elephants.
Our Strategies


At the core of our strategy are local communities, who both form part of the value of KSWS and can play a critical role in its long-term survival. WCS supported the village of Andoung Kraloeng to obtain the first indigenous community land title (ICT) awarded in Mondulkiri, at that time only the third ICT in the country. Since then, a total of seven ICTs have been issued in KSWS, with more under process. These legal titles allow indigenous communities to defend their land from illegal land grabs, as well as allowing long-term planning and security. Community development is supported through the Benefit Sharing Mechanism, a key part of the REDD+ model that enables communities to build water systems, community meeting halls, small-scale infrastructure such as bridges, and other projects selected by the communities themselves as high priorities. A portion of this funding is performance-based, with performance measured against a set of targets designed by communities to incentivise progression towards goals they themselves consider important. These targets have included things like the proportion of women attending community planning meetings, displaying community financial records publicly, and the number of poor households supported by collective community action. Through agricultural projects, community income is increased whilst negative impacts are reduced. A major part of this component is Ibis Rice, an ethically-driven conservation enterprise first launched by WCS in Cambodia’s Northern Plains, working with farmers to protect the ecosystem while growing premium organic jasmine rice ( Farmers receive an above-market rate in return for following a set of conservation rules that reduce environmental impact through removing chemical inputs and halting expansion of farmland into protected forest.

Law enforcement

Given the context described above, direct law enforcement is a fundamental component of protected area management in Cambodia. The KSWS project supports government Department of Environment (DoE) rangers, as well as military and provincial police, to conduct patrols and crackdown on illegal logging, poaching, and land grabbing. The project works with local villages to establish Community Patrols, where community members work with DoE rangers to protect their land titles and traditionally used areas. These patrols are an effective tool, as communities are the most knowledgeable about the situation in their lands and are strongly incentivized to protect their homes, farm land, and forest resources. WCS supports the project to monitor threats such as land clearance through satellite data, and supports the implementation of technical tools such as the SMART law enforcement monitoring. KSWS is the first Cambodian protected area to use a data-driven zonation process, where more than 40 geospatial datasets were analysed with decision-support software to produce protected area zones that best protect wildlife and community resources whilst taking into account critical infrastructure such as roads and powerlines.

Direct wildlife protection

The giant ibis, Cambodia’s national bird, is globally critically endangered. A small population is found within KSWS, and to improve fledging success a nest protection program supports local community members to install predator-exclusion devices and protect giant ibis and lesser adjutant nesting trees during the nesting season.

Monitoring and evaluation

To evaluate the success of these interventions, biodiversity monitoring takes place across a range of species, with biannual population estimates produced for 11 key species, and distribution estimates for 13 key species. Elephant populations are periodically estimated using genetic analysis. Forest cover change is monitored using high resolution satellite imagery. A robust Social Impact Assessment is conducted periodically to measure economic growth and other social progress for local communities. This work is supported by a range of donors and partners and significantly by the Keo Seima REDD+ project.


Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus the sustainable management of forests, and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+), is an essential part of the global efforts to mitigate climate change. A number of different models for REDD+ projects are used globally. In KSWS, a ‘avoided deforestation’ model is used, which uses robust statistical modelling and comparative analysis to estimate the extent to of forest loss that would take place in the absence of a protective project. This baseline is compared to the actual extent of forest loss in a given period using satellite data, and the difference between the baseline and the actual forest loss generates Verified Carbon Units (VCUs), commonly called carbon credits. These credits are purchased by individuals and organisations who want to offset their carbon emissions, and the funding raised from their sale is used to sustainably fund the KSWS project and support the development of communities in and around the protected area. More details of the Keo Seima REDD+ project can be found here (KEO SEIMA WILDLIFESANCTUARY REDD+ PROJECT), and all technical documentation is publicly available through the Verra Database and on the WCS website.

Our Impact


  • Supported first legal protection of the site in 2002, as Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area
  • Cambodia’s first data-driven zonation process, incorporating more than 40 geo-spatial datasets
  • Development of one of Cambodia’s first and largest REDD+ projects covering 167,000 ha
  • Sold more than 600,000 carbon credits with a value of more than $3,000,000, used to support protected area management and community development through the Benefit Sharing Mechanism
  • Successful downsizing of three ELCs granted in the southern part of KSWS, from 30,000 ha to 16,519 ha
  • Annual strategic Protected Area management plans and budgets developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment


  • Supported first Indigenous Community Land Title (ICT) awarded to a Bunong community
  • A total of seven ICTs now awarded, with more underway
  • Implementation of a piped drinking water system to 108 houses in partnership with TapEffect and World Hope International
  • Distribution of around $220,000 to 20 local communities in 2018 under the REDD+ Benefit Sharing Mechanism, used for:
    • Supporting community construction of:
      • Community meeting halls
      • Bridges
      • Water systems included piped water and closed pump wells
    • Supporting health care through mobile clinics implemented by partners CIAI
    • Supported establishment of Jahoo, a community based ecotourism project now with an annual turnover of more than $14,000 (
  • Support to partners Elephant Valley Project, the largest non-agricultural employer of the Bunong community in KSWS, and a responsible elephant sanctuary and ecotourism project.
  • Supported the establishment of Community Protected Areas (CPA), including Sre Preah CPA which now generates sustainable income through a bamboo harvesting and handicraft program developed by WCS
  • Support to community patrols, helping to protect indigenous land.

Law enforcement


  • Successfully supported the first legal challenge to an ICT, with the case taken all the way to the supreme court, and found in favour of O’Rona indigenous community
  • Supported thousands of kilometers of law enforcement patrols across KSWS
  • Supported adoption of SMART law enforcement management toolkit, including trialing of the new SMART Mobile and SMART connect platforms
  • Supported ranger training programs, from patrol tactics to wildlife identification
  • Provision of equipment such as backpacks and GPS to ranger teams.



  • 15 new species discovered within KSWS
  • Stable populations of the critically endangered black-shanked douc langur
  • Stable populations of endangered yellow-cheeked crested gibbon
  • Stable population of two vulnerable macaque species, and increasing population of a third macaque species
  • A decade of robust population monitoring data for 11 species
  • Highest recorded bird diversity in Cambodia
  • One of the highest known woodpecker diversities in the world
  • First successful giant ibis nests recorded in 2019
  • More than 1000 species recorded from the site, including 55 globally threatened vertebrate species, and 75 total globally threatened flora and fauna species
  • Rediscovery of critically endangered snail species Bertia cambojiensis in 2019, once thought to be extinct
  • A decade of robust population monitoring data for 11 species.



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Cambodia Rural Development Team

United States Fish and Wildlife Service
United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Danish International Development Agency
Danish International Development Agency

Sam Veasna Center
Sam Veasna Center

CAMPAS Project
CAMPAS Project

Forestry Administration
Forestry Administration

UK Department for International Development
UK Department for International Development

New Zealand's International Aid & Development Agency
New Zealand's International Aid & Development Agency

Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment
Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment

Agence Française de Développement
Agence Française de Développement