Cambodia, WWF: border highway threatens flora and fauna of a protected forest
Environmentalists warn of a number of infrastructure projects wanted by the government of Phnom Penh. They endanger the survival of species already threatened with extinction. The area is also subject to a program of reintroduction of tigers in the wild; a project that would promote tourism.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - The creation of a new border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam, combined with the construction of a motorway - in the design phase - that will cross an area of ​​protected forest, will lead to the extinction of some animal species that are already at risk .

This is the warning of experts of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), who are demanding the cancellation of a project that includes the construction of a 36 km section of motorway, which will link srea Ampom with Kbal Damrei. The development plan would cause extensive damage to the protected forest of Mondulkiri, located in the eastern province of Cambodia, the largest and least populated area of the country.

The project area is 4,300 kilometers square and is the natural habitat of at least 23 species - including mammals, birds, reptiles and plants - threatened, if not a high risk of extinction. For the experts of the international organization many of these species have already become extinct in other parts of South-East Asia because of the progressive loss of their natural environment and the illegal hunting of protected species.

The area of ​​forest at the center of the dispute is also the site identified by the Phnom Penh government , to implement the plan to reintroduce the tiger into the wild. Speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA) Sam Ath Chhith, national director of WWF Cambodia, said that "the Mondulkiri protected forest is a treasure trove of biodiversity."

"Unfortunately - adds activist - both the spectacular biodiversity and the tiger reintroduction are in jeopardy if this border crossing and road are built through the core zone of the protected forest." Among the most endangered species is the banteng, a variant of the wild cattle of the South-East Asia whose population has fallen by 80% over the past 50 years. Some specimens can only be found in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Other endangered species at risk in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest are the giant ibis, Siamese crocodile, slender-billed vulture, Eld’s deer, dipterocarpus alatus tropical hardwood tree, silvered langur (monkey), masked finfoot (water fowl) and elongated tortoise. Many of these species have become endangered because of hunting, deforestation and habitat loss.

The WWF supports the government of Phnom Penh in the reintroduction of the wild tiger in context, that could be a boost to the tourism sector. In addition, the experts add, defense of the forest is essential to ensuring the survival of the people who base their lives on its ecosystem, for fresh water, food and other basic necessities.

"Simply put - concludes Sam Ath Chhith - there's too much to lose and too little to gain if the road is built." The new highway will cut 19 km of protected forest and, according to some sources, it would be used by illegal loggers.