Building on the success of its bird-watching eco-tourism initiative in Tmatbuay village, northern Cambodia, SOS Grantee and IUCN Member, WCS Cambodia has begun expanding the concept to other sites in the region including Prey Veng village, habitat for the Endangered White-winged Duck (Cairina scutulata)- a beautiful, rare and poorly known bird.
Prey Veng is special for a number of other reasons too. It has an Angkorian era temple hidden in the jungle, like something out of an Indiana Jones film, and an Angkorian era baray, an artificial lake used for storing water and a nascent bird-watching tourism business. “Local people changed the way they used the baray, because of their desire to protect a duck!” remarks Ashish John.
Ashish is Northern Plains Technical Advisor with SOS Grantee WCS Cambodia, who in association with its local NGO Sam Veasna Centre (SVC) has been working inside Preah Vihear Protected Forest and Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary for some time building good relationships with local families to understand their development aspirations. Because the baray retains water throughout the year, a population of White-winged Duck forages in the lake. These, and the Giant Ibis and breeding Sarus Crane are what bring birdwatchers to Prey Veng according to Ashish.
Central to this is building an economy and infrastructure that supports tourism, however. In Tmatbauy, for example, the project team had focused on rewarding sightings of birds with monetary incentives going into a community development fund to be spent by the village at its discretion. This has proved very popular, helping reduce hunting and growing the population of White-shouldered Ibis nearby from just a handful of birds to nearly 50 testifies Uy Sitha, Project Officer. The people of Tmatbauy also receive an income from providing local guiding services and offering food and accommodation.
The accommodation is key, according to Johnny Orn, Director of SVC. With support from SOS the team has begun to provide facilities in Prey Veng village. The temple and remote location are an added draw, also attracting eco-tourists who just want to experience somewhere remote and beautiful. Local people also use the baray for fishing, which causes disturbance to the White-winged Ducks. In recognition of the benefits that the eco-lodge will bring to the village, the people of Prey Veng have decided to prohibit fishing in half of the baray, to allow the ducks enough undisturbed space to feed. This guarantees sightings of the White-winged Duck for birdwatchers, replicating benefits of the community bonus system operated in Tmatbuay.
Opportunities are few in rural Cambodia. Traditionally, remote communities rely on subsistence activities such as hunting, collecting non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and cultivating small areas of rice. The support from SOS has meant that the eco-lodge will bring tangible economic benefits to the village of Prey Veng. Because these economic benefits are directly linked to populations of threatened species, communities choose to protect threatened birds such as the White-winged Duck.