By Marissa Carruthers
Mar 3, 2021
ANIMALS ABOUND IN CAMBODIA thanks to its mosaic of habitats. A delightful diversity of wildlife can be found lurking in its patchwork of paddies, plains, jungle-hugged mountains, web of waterways and sprawling rainforest. From retired elephants and cute clouded leopards to endangered birds and mischievous monkeys, here are five incredible eco-experiences that take you into the heart of Cambodia’s wild while helping to conserve nature teetering on the brink of extinction.
In the eastern province of Mondulkiri, it’s common for communities living in its rugged terrain of mountainous jungle to own elephants. They are often over-worked and forced to carry out hard labor into old age. Elephant Valley Project (EVP) offers a sanctuary for captive elephants to enjoy some respite, or retire. Naturally, EVP is an advocate of animal welfare, so don’t expect to ride the magnificent mammals. You will, however, be amazed watching the 10 beasts happily roam 1,500 private hectares of forest, grassland and bamboo groves, wade through rivers and tear out trees with their trunks.
Standing as Southeast Asia’s largest intact rainforest, the Cardamom Mountains are teeming with flora and fauna. However, decades of illegal logging and wildlife trafficking have taken their toll. Swathes of ancient forest have been razed and its nature pillaged. Cardamom Tented Camp aims to help reverse this. The eco-lodge’s nine safari-style tents are nestled in Botum Sakor National Park, which is rich with wildlife. Clouded leopards, Asiatic black bears, pileated gibbons and sun bears are just a handful of animals that call it home. Guests can join rangers on jungle patrol and keep an eye and ear out for nature calling.
Get in a flap with Sam Veasna Conservation Tours (SVC), which curates excursions to spot some of Cambodia’s recorded 636 species of birds. Since 2006, they’ve been taking visitors to remote areas to catch a glimpse of the country’s seven critically endangered, two endemic and more than 27 threatened species that call Cambodia home. In fact, Cambodia is the only remaining place to find the world’s rarest bird: the giant ibis, of which there are believed to be fewer than 300. SVC’s pioneering conservation projects have helped bolster bird populations.
Find your inner Tarzan or Jane at Wildlife Alliance’s release station in the heart of the Cardamom Mountains. The organization rescues animals from the clutches of traffickers and hunters who prowl the rainforest for pangolins, sun bears, clouded leopards, slow lorises and other treasured wildlife. Embark on an unforgettable experience to see rehabilitated animals before they are released back into their natural habitat.
T+L Tip: The luxury tented camp Shinta Mani Wild funds a Wildlife Alliance ranger station near its site in the Southern Cardamoms; a stay there includes the option to go out on an anti-poaching patrol with them.
Score a bear hug – or get the closest as safely possible – from sun and moon bears at Free the Bears’ sanctuary. It boasts the title of the world’s largest sanctuary for sun bears, with 120 rescues calling it home. Located on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, the team of bear experts save the animals from poachers, profiteers of the exotic pet trade and those willing to torture in the name of traditional medicine. A ‘Bear Care Tour’ is a great introduction to the work carried out at the center, which also runs sanctuaries in Luang Prabang, Laos, and Cat Tien, Vietnam.
3 Other Animal Causes Worth Supporting
Southeast Asia is alive with innovative initiatives to breathe new life into dwindling animal populations. Despite travel remaining at a standstill, there are still ways to support the region’s delicate ecosystem and its residents. Help keep Borneo’s hornbill flying high by buying a wild fig tree with the Plant4Hornbills project. Protect Myanmar’s dwindling Irrawaddy dolphins and the fishermen who work alongside them with Living Irrawaddy Dolphin Project. Or play your part in protecting Laos’s prized wildlife and sponsor a rescue team at Lao Conservation Trust for Wildlife.