On a half-day trek through the forest
Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer with GlobalGiving who is visiting our projects throughout Southeast Asia. From January 30-February 1 he visited the Wildlife Alliance community-based ecotourism project in Chi Pat.
Destruction of natural habitat and illegal hunting are the two biggest threats to wildlife in most forested areas in the tropics. The area where Wildlife Alliance (WA) works in southwestern Cambodia, part of the second largest contiguous forest in Southeast Asia, is no different. In addition to pushing for the expansion of protected areas and ensuring the integrity of areas that are protected, WA and many other organizations have learned over the years that conservation efforts will not ultimately be sustainable unless the communities in and near the forests have economic alternatives to hunting, logging and slash-and-burn agriculture.
This has led WA to develop a community-based ecotourism (CBET) project in the fairly remote village of Chi Pat. If it is easier and more lucrative to make a livelihood, directly or indirectly, in support of the tourism industry, this reduces local drivers of habitat destruction.
To make the ecotourism program itself sustainable, it should be able to operate entirely on local capacity and related income. WA is firmly committed to this goal, with the question “How will this work when we’re not here?” often repeated. This attitude is perhaps the best part of WA’s approach. Though it appears they are still a ways off, they have progress. They claim to need 80 visitors a month to balance out expenses; in 2009, they were just a bit short at 829 visitors for the year. There is also a local council, with representatives voted on by the community, in charge of sub-groups that focuses on about eight key areas—from tour guides and cooks to sanitation. While all appear dedicated to their jobs, it seemed in my discussion with them that they are still a few years away from this group being able to effectively and independently run all the necessary components of the operation to keep it running for decades to come.
But with WA trainings and experience, it seems it will come, as will the tourists. This spot, featured in many young travelers’ gospel, Lonely Planet, has a lot to offer. Mountain biking, kayaking, multiday nature treks, historical relics, a great restaurant run by the ecotourism group and comfortable guesthouses. If you’re ever in the area, you should stop by. And if you like the comprehensive approach Wildlife Alliance is taking to conservation, consider continuing to support their project. Thanks!
Delicious dinner at CBET
Villagers gather seeds for reforestation