The Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has approved a 9,000 hectare (22,200 acre) rubber plantation in Virachey National Park despite its status as a protected area, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The park is also listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park.
Spanning 332,500 hectares in Ratanakkiri province, Virachey National Park, is Cambodia’s largest.
The concession to clearcut the forest and establish a rubber plantation was awarded to Srun Sovannaphoum Investment Co Ltd.
“It is good because that area is uninhabited, so when the company comes to invest they will also construct a road,” Ratanakkiri provincial governor Pav Hamphan told the Phnom Penh Post. Villagers in another region of Cambodia are protesting the loss of their forest, known as Prey Lang, to rubber plantations.
“Cutting some part of Virachey National Park may not affect villagers, but it seriously affects the forest and this province will lose even more forest land,” Pen Bonnar, coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, told the Phnom Penh Post
The World Bank has invested $5 million into managing Virachey National Park, which has suffered from illegal logging.
The rubber plantation concession is not the first time Cambodia has handed parts of the park over to private industry. In 2007 the government granted Australian gold-mining company, Indochine Mining, rights to exploratory mining in half the park.
The wildlife of Virachey National Park have been little studied, but a Rapid Assessment Survey (RAP) in 2007 found evidence of healthy populations of dholes—listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List—inhabiting the park, in addition to gaurs, yellow-cheeked gibbons, stump-tailed macaques, Asiatic black bears, Malayan sun bears, and Asian small-clawed otters. The short survey also found a number of species that may be unknown to science.
A portion of Virachey National Park as seen by Google Earth.
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