This watershed, at the heart of the Cardamom mountain range, is the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape. Renamed from the ‘Central Cardamoms Protected Forest’ in 2016, the 400,000-hectare (1 million- acre) CCMNP represents Cambodia’s first protected area and one of Asia’s largest. Rivers in the CCMNP provide drinking water for more than 30,000 people and support rice and fish production in the lowland agricultural plains, ensuring food security for many of Cambodia’s poorest people.
Due to the region’s isolation, the natural resources of the Cardamom Mountains — estimated to be worth well over US$ 1 billion — were untapped by outsiders for centuries. But as Cambodia has modernized, they have become increasingly vulnerable to illegal logging, hunting, forest clearing and land encroachment.
Since helping to gain official protection for the forest in 2002, Conservation International has helped the Cambodian government to develop the legal frameworks and the on-ground strategies needed for effective, long-term conservation of the area. We are working to improve the government’s capacity to protect the area, such as providing technical and financial support to the rangers that patrol the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape to deter illegal wildlife poaching and logging activities. We also work directly with the communities resident in and around the forest to develop livelihoods that allow them to benefit from the rich resources of the Cardamoms whilst encouraging their preservation for use by their children and grandchildren.
A recent independent review found that the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape has a significantly lower deforestation rate than the surrounding forests. But the pressures of illegal logging and wildlife poaching are constant and increasing, which is why we are working with communities, partners and government to ensure Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape's continued protection.
Securing long-term financing
Recognizing that securing this vast protected area requires long-term sustainable financing, Conservation International launched a trust fund in January 2016 to cover core management costs indefinitely. The trust fund is currently funded at one-fourth of its $US 10 million goal.
Science and Monitoring
Our research has helped stakeholders better understand and quantify the value of the “natural capital” present in the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape — including biodiversity, climate change mitigation properties and fresh water — so the value of its conservation can be better understood and factored into government planning. With recent funding from USAID Morodok Baitang we conducted the landscape’s first systematic biodiversity study in 2023 using camera traps. This survey marks the establishment of a long-term biodiversity monitoring program in the landscape.
Working with communities
Since 2001, Conservation International has provided support to indigenous communities living in and around the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape. This work includes community agreements that successfully link livelihood improvements to wildlife protection, ranger training and biological research and monitoring.
Protecting a critical watershed
The Cardamom Mountains collect freshwater which feeds the Tonle Sap Lake downstream. Conservation International have various initiatives underway in this vast watershed to sustain this connected landscape and benefit the biodiversity and people that depend on it.
By the Numbers
With our support, the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape program engages about 2,700 people directly in conservation agreements, which provide economic benefits to local communities in exchange for wildlife protection and surveillance. There has also been an increase in the number of community members reporting illegal logging and poaching.
The annual value of the Cardamom Mountains is estimated to be more than US$ 1 billion in terms of the goods and services they provide, including timber, crops, carbon storage, non- timber forest products (e.g., game animals, nuts, seeds, berries, medicinal plants), water and recreation.
The Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape is home to 54 species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, including Asian elephants, Siamese crocodiles, sun bears, gibbons and pangolins.
Conservation International has conservation agreements with communities to protect natural ecosystems and halt destructive activities in return for incentives that support sustainable development. Our collective focus is on developing other locally feasible and sustainable sources of income which are complementary to conservation. Financial mechanisms such as endowments and trusts allow for long-term support of these arrangements, and monitoring ensures that both conservation and socioeconomic results are achieved. Communities have reduced slash-and-burn agriculture, increased community participation in tree planting and agroforestry activities, and reported more illegal activities to government rangers.
In 2016, Conservation International launched a Trust Fund for the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape. This is Cambodia’s first ever conservation Trust Fund. With a target of US$10M, the Fund is currently one-quarter capitalized. Once at full capacity, the Fund will be used to finance the management of the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape in perpetuity, ensuring that this keystone ecological asset is protected forever. This is great news for the indigenous communities and the wildlife who call the Central Cardamom Mountains Landscape home, and for all who rely on the freshwater and clean air that the forests provide.
Central Cardamom Mountains National Park
Cambodia’s Central Cardamom Mountains National Park is essential to the lives and livelihoods of millions of Cambodians. Launched in 2002 as the ‘Central Cardamoms Protected Forest’, the initiative was the first joint conservation effort of its kind between an NGO – Conservation International – and the government of Cambodia. Now these partners have announced a new conservation Trust Fund, which will bring an innovative and effective model for long-term conservation of this vital forest.