Status of Biodiversity Researches in Cambodia by fvd11557



Status of Biodiversity
Researches in Cambodia
  By Dr. Neou Bonheur
  Department for Nature Conservation and Protection, Ministry of Environment

                 INTRODUCTION                                     relating to biodiversity are poorly understood or inaccessible.
                 Cambodia is situated in the Indochinese Pen-     There is a general observation of gaps in research coverage
                 insula adjacent to the Gulf of Thailand with     and methods for many aspects of biodiversity conservation
a land area of 181,035 square kilometers. The territory           and development.
is characterised by a central floodplain surrounded by the
Cardamom mountains in the southwest, Dangrek mountains            INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENT
in the north, and the coastal-marine ecosystem in the south.      FOR BIODIVERSITY RESEARCHES
The Mekong River and the Tonle Sap Lake are the most                 Key departments that conduct biodiversity researches in
important freshwater bodies of Cambodia central flood-            Cambodia include the:
plains, which form a unique and complex ecological system            • Ministry of Environment (MoE)- established in 1993
containing rich natural resources base for the Cambodian                to protect, conserve and develop the environment
economy and its population (MoP 2001).                                               and natural resources in a sustainable
     Little is known about the extent of                                             manner, and which supervises the De-
Cambodia’s biodiversity, but it is believed                                          partment of Nature Conservation and
that biological resources of the country                                             Protection and the Department for Envi-
remain largely intact due to the country’s                                           ronmental Information Management and
slow development and low population                                                  Socio-Economics Study.
density. Moreover, the protected areas sys-
tem of the country also plays a para-                                                 •       Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and
mount role in the preservation of impor-                                              Fishery (MAFF) - plays an important role
tant habitats and wildlife. The significance of Cambodia’s             in the development and management of natural re-
biodiversity is also recognized by its high productivity and           sources, particularly in the areas of agriculture, soil
ability to support even highly human populated areas such              improvement and agronomy, livestock production and
as the Tonle Sap Lake floodplain. Estimates show that Cam-             health, agro-industry, forestry and wildlife, and fish-
bodia has over 2308 flora species, 486 freshwater fish, 357            eries. Agencies under the MAFF with active roles in
marine fish, 500 birds, 82 reptiles, 123 mammals, and                  biodiversity research include the Department of Fish-
more than 40 invertebrates (Biodiversity Status Report, 2001).         eries, the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, Depart-
It is anticipated that there will be a much higher number of           ment of Agronomy, and the Cambodia Rice Devel-
species as more species are discovered through researches.             opment Institute (CARDI).
     The population is largely dependent on the country’s            • Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology –
natural resources and there is a general concern over con-             designated to manage water resources in an efficient
stant biodiversity decline. Poverty and population growth pose         and sustainable manner. Several departments relevant
a serious threat to the sustainable management of natural              to freshwater resources management include the De-
resources. Limited scientific knowledge and lack of skills in          partment of Water Resources Management and Con-
sustainable use of resources imply high production at the              servation, Department of Irrigation and Drainage,
expense of biodiversity loss. Improved understanding of                and Department of Hydrology and Meteorology.
biodiversity through research and development will insure            • Cambodia National Mekong Committee – tasked
effective capture of its benefits and long-term sustainability.        with establishing communications between line-min-
However, Cambodia has very low capacity in biodiversity                istries with Mekong riparian countries and coordinat-
research and development, much of which were developed                 ing at the national level for the implementation of the
in the last two decades. Most of these were undertaken with            Mekong River Commission agreement, particularly
the assistance of international organisations. The lack of             on the basin development plan and the rules for water
coordination among various sectors also impedes proper                 utilisation. It also coordinates actions for the sustain-
planning of biodiversity researches. As a result, many topics          able management and conservation of the Tonle Sap

                                                                                           ASEAN BIODIVERSITY                13
     Lake.                                                           poultry come from wild species in Southeast Asia, with
   • Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MCRS) -                    Cambodia now having both locally domesticated and
     provides technical and administrative services to the           introduced varieties of chicken, goose, duck, and turkey
     Council and the Joint Committee of the Mekong River             (Cambodia Biodiversity Enabling Activity, 2000).
     Commission. Major programmes include the Mekong                      The only agency known for genetic collection and con-
     Basin Development Plan, Water Utilisation Programme             servation is the Department of Agronomy. With the assistance
     and Environmental Programme, which aim to pro-                  of the Cambodia Agricultural Research and Development
     mote sustainable development of the Mekong River                Institute, this department has collected over 1,200 rice varieties
     Basin. The MRCS has also developed research                     from 13 provinces. These rice traits and passports are kept
     programmes to support information management                    in a rice germplasm catalogue with assigned codes and are
     systems relating to environmental and biological                readily available for breeding.
     resources of the Mekong Basin.
   • Universities such as the Royal Chamkar Dong Uni-                Species Diversity
     versity, Prek Leap Agricultural Institute, and Royal            Forestry
     University of Phnom Penh that are actively involved                 There is no accurate data on the diversity and distribution
     in biodiversity research.                                       of flora across the country. The only extensive taxonomic
   • International organisations that provide technical and          research was conducted by Dy Phon (1982), and lists 2308
     financial support to various government agencies                species of seed plants. This number though seems conser-
     include the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Wild           vative given a reasonable estimate of about 12,000 to
     Aid, World Wildlife Fund, Wetland International, IUCN-          15,000 species for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam com-
     World Conservation Union, International Crane Foun-             bined.
     dation, Food and Agriculture Organization, and                      Since 1998, a number of studies have been conducted
     Fauna and Flora International (FFI).                            in response to the criticisms over forest mismanagement in
                                                                     Cambodia. The most important work is the mapping of
THE STATUS OF BIODIVERSITY                                           forest cover, forest policy research on forest concessions,
RESEARCHES IN THE COUNTRY                                            revision of the Forestry Law, and the forest crime monitoring
    Cambodia in general, has limited capacity in terms of            and reporting system. Several versions of land use and land
expertise, staff, and networks for biodiversity research.            cover maps have been produced by the Mekong Secretariat
Biodiversity research and development are not well coor-             (1991, 1993, 1994), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische
dinated among responsible agencies and are often carried             Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) (1997) and Japan International
out with international assistance. Many research programmes          Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2000).
are hampered by lack of security, poor networking, and                   Not much is known about the biological character of
financial mismatch. Systematic research and monitoring               flood forests as very few studies have been conducted, largely
activities have just begun slowly since the establishment of         due to the lack of expertise, limited research and low eco-
the new government in 1993. Little is still known about the          nomic interest. The best research on flood forest communities
status of biodiversity in Cambodia. Biodiversity researches          has been a McDonald’s (1996) study of the Tonle Sap
often involve several ministries, but because of lack of             floodplain. Since then there has been no subsequent re-
coordination and data exchange, much of the existing data            searches conducted on flood forest ecology and species
are spread among agencies and not easily accessible. But             diversity.
since 1998 there has been gradual improvement in the
planning and development of research programmes by                   Fisheries
relevant institutions such as the MAFF and the MoE.                       Fish biology and diversity are better studied largely due
                                                                     to its high economic and cultural interest. Many studies have
Genetic Diversity                                                    been conducted since the start of the 20th century, more
    Cambodia has important wild and domesticated animal              important of which are those published by Chevey and Le
genetic resources, but there is no systematic research to            Poulain (1940), Blache and Goosens (1954), Bardarch
preserve animal genetic resources in the country. Species and        (1959), Fily and Aubenton (1964), Kottelat (1985), the
breeds of domestic and wild cattle, such as domestic swamp           Mekong Secretariat (1992), and Rainboth (1996). Never-
Water Buffalo and wild swamp Water Buffalo are also                  theless there are still plenty of gaps in the understanding of
believed to still exist. There are also several breeds of domestic   fish ecology pertaining to their relationship with flooded forests,
pigs, including an indigenous, a Chinese, and several                endemic species, migratory, spawning and feeding patterns,
European varieties. It is believed that most of the world’s          abiotic conditions and its interaction with other biological

units within the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong river system.       is however limited understanding of their migration patterns,
    Knowledge on freshwater ecology has been growing               economic value, and population dynamics. Significant con-
due to the long-standing support of the MRC Secretariat.           tributions to bird study have been made by the WCS, Society,
MRCS has been working with the Fishery Department since            Birdlife International, International Crane Foundation, Wet-
1996 to estimate the fish stock in the Cambodian freshwater        land International, IUCN-World Conservation Union, and
ecosystem by checking primary fishery capture at landing           the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
sites throughout the country. Total fish production is estimated
at 300-400 thousand tons per year with a monetary value            In-situ Conservation
of USD 200 million (MRCS). MRCS also supports several                  Cambodia has 23 protected areas covering about 3.3
research programmes on fish migration, aquaculture and             million ha, as well as three sites protected under the RAMSAR
fish spawning which gradually enhances the ecological              Convention. The Tonle Sap Lake has also been declared
understanding of fish species in the Mekong River. About           a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO Man and Biosphere
500 fish species are identified in the Cambodian Mekong            (MAB) Program. The status of biodiversity in most protected
River. Some 70 fish species are of commercial value, of            areas is poorly documented, and only few have received
which 13 (Channa micropeltes, Cyclocheilichthys enoplos,           attention from the government and donors. There are very
Pangasius hypophthalmus, Henicorhynchuc siamansis,                 few biodiversity researches conducted in protected areas,
Barbodes gonionotus, Hampala dispar, Cirrhinus microlepis,         and previous studies that have some fieldwork focus on
Osteochilus melanopleurus, Morulius chrysophekadion,               identification of issues and problems for policy formulation.
Mystus nemurus, Mytus spp, Trichogaster microlepis, Channa         Obviously, limited available data on all protected areas is
marulius) are the most abundant, accounting for 82% per            associated with lack of research facilities, equipment and
catch sample (Troeung Roth, 1999). A number of species,            security, limited human resources, and financial mismatch.
such as the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasionodon gigas),            Land mines disturb field activities of park rangers. Priority is
giant barb (Catlocarpio siamensis), and seven-line barb            often given to immediate conservation measures to prevent
(Probarbus jullieni) are now included in the conservation list.    further decline of habitats and wildlife even without sufficient
    However, little is known about fish diversity and marine       information. It is observed that remote protected areas are
ecosystems in the Cambodian coastal and marine environ-            under serious pressure from poachers and deforestation.
ment. About 357 fish species have been identified.                 The Tonle Sap Lake has been given more attention than
                                                                   other protected areas due to better access and international
Mammals                                                            recognition, but research gaps remain. Therefore biodiversity
    The diverse forest cover provides excellent habitats for       researches in most protected areas are necessary for build-
a diversity of wild animals. Approximately 100 species of          ing knowledge and improving conservation.
terrestrial mammals are recorded. A total of 49 mammal
taxa is currently listed by IUCN (2000) as globally threat-        Ex-situ Conservation
ened. A number of researches on mammals have been                      Cambodia does not have proper ex-situ conservation
conducted in the past 10 years in some parts of the country        programmes such as zoos, botanical gardens, herbaria, tree
by the Forestry Department in collaboration with the FFI and       nurseries, seed banks, and gene banks. There is however
the WCS. Notable researches on mammals were conducted              the Tamao Zoo established by the Forestry Department. But
in the Cardamom mountain range, the northern plateau               due to lack of capacity in maintaining this zoo, the Forestry
and the northeast region of Mondul Kiri and Rattanakiri            Department leased out this zoo to Wildaid International.
provinces.                                                         Several training programmes and facilities have been de-
                                                                   veloped in the zoo. A number of unofficial zoos were also
Birds                                                              created across the country without proper care, resulting in
    Species diversity and distribution of birds is well elabo-     unintentional death of captive animals. Though investment
rated as many researches have been conducted in the last           in a zoo is risky, the number of private zoos has increased
decade. Today most areas of the country have received at           in a bid to generate income from visitors.
least some preliminary fieldwork. In Cambodia birds are                Some research activities are undertaken with regard to
found in all major geo-biological regions. Significant con-        rice germplasm collection in several provinces of Cambo-
centration of birds occurs in the central floodplain - the Tonle   dia. About 2000 rice varieties are recorded with their
Sap Lake, although less diversity is found in the Cardamom         germplasm holdings maintained in CARDI and duplicate
mountains. To date over 500 species of birds are recorded,         samples at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in
of which 39 are classified as globally threatened by hunting       Los Baños, Philippines. The Government hopes to set up a
for food, trade, habitat loss, and human disturbance. There        botanical garden and herbarium with the joint technical

                                                                                            ASEAN BIODIVERSITY                15
                                      CURRENT BIODIVERSITY RESEARCH PROJECTS
               TITLE                        AUTHOR/               DATE                         TOPICS/BRIEF DESCRIPTION
                                      IMPLEMENTING AGENCY
  Tonle Sap Environmental              MAFF, MoE, CNMC,           2004-08      Protected area policy, biodiversity, Fishery Plan. The
  Management Project                    ADB, GEF/UNDP                          project has three components: natural resources planning
                                                                               and coordination, community fishery organisation, and
                                                                               biodiversity conservation

  CGFP (support to forestry policy)   Forestry Department, GTZ/   96-2004      Forest policy

  Sustainable Management of           Forestry department, GTZ/   98-2005      Forest. To develop and implement participatory natural
  Resources in the Lower Mekong                 MRC                            resources management strategies, specifically collaborative
  Basin                                                                        forest management strategies

  Watershed Management Project at       Forestry Department/      02-2004      Forest and watershed
  Kbal Chhay                                 DANIDA

assistance of UNESCO and the Chinese Government. But                volved in agricultural researches to support rural develop-
as human resources and funding are scarce, the project will         ment. CARDI has developed a capacity to undertake re-
take time to be implemented. Locations for botanical gar-           searches on many aspects of agronomy. A notable achieve-
dens have already been identified and training programmes           ment has been the collection of rice germplasm which are
are being developed.                                                readily available for germination. However, biosafety/
                                                                    biosecurity remains poorly addressed in agriculture.
   Though in-situ conservation is the preferred means of
conserving biodiversity in Cambodia, ex-situ conservation can       CONCLUSIONS
play a complementary role in the preservation of species.               Cambodia is rich in biodiversity, but their status is poorly
Capacity and research in this area should be developed.             documented. The primary reason is that Cambodia lacks
                                                                    capacity and funding for biodiversity researches. Progress
Priority Research Areas                                             in research has occurred only recently when access to many
    Protected areas are probably less known in terms of             parts of the country has become more secure, together with
biodiversity richness and value due to the low capacity of          the increased external support from international organisations.
the Ministry of Environment, limited funding and lack of            There is however an observation of gradual improvement
security. Most protected areas are poorly documented and            of capacity in biodiversity researches for some institutions
do not have management plans in place. Regular biodiversity         such as the MAFF and the MoE.
monitoring only exists in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve.              Research gaps are found in most aspects of biodiversity.
Socio-economic studies are available only for some pro-             Priorities are not easily defined for ARCBC intervention. This
tected areas that are assisted by international organisations.      paper only provides some understanding of the current status
    There are also few researches on the coastal and marine         of biodiversity research in Cambodia, this is not compre-
environment, since there are very few marine biologists in          hensive as time for elaboration is short. As pointed out early,
Cambodia. While mangroves are frequently studied, there             biodiversity is a cross-sector activity where the contribution of
are few data on other ecosystems such as seagrasses, coral          each institution is important. Selection of each project should
reefs, and mudflats. Fish composition and marine animals            again be based on the specific interests and needs of various
are also under-researched.                                          departments, and the need for capacity building, and not
    There have been many research projects in the fishery and       confined to producing new scientific findings. Additional criteria
forestry sectors since 1998 as these sectors were established       may be developed to avoid overlapping efforts at the national
earlier and have gained considerable capacity. For the fishery      and regional level.
sector, systematic researches are planned by MRCS on the                For Cambodia, the protected area system should be
Mekong and Tonle Sap Lake. Nevertheless, some research              given more priority for ARCBC intervention since the biodiversity
gaps exist particularly in genetics and taxonomy, ecological        in these areas are significant for both national and regional
restoration, economic values, and biosafety and security.           conservation. But this does not mean that other areas of
    The agricultural sector has been studied in a more sys-         research are not important. Small and medium research
tematic way than any other sector. Many research activities         projects with immediate impact on local economy, poverty
were planned during the last decade with the support of             alleviation and improved conservation policy should also be
Australian Government. Many NGOs are also actively in-              given priority.

  16     JANUARY-DECEMBER 2004

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