One of the most important attractions in Cambodia is its highly specific geography and settings. While this may not seem obvious at a first glance, it will progressively become once you start visiting local zoos, national parks and other places as such. In Cambodia, fauna needs to be discovered in order to be fully understood and valued.
Cambodia is located in the Indochina peninsula and is bordered by Thailand to the West, Thailand and Laos to the North, Vietnam to the East, and the Gulf of Thailand to the South. Its two-season monsoonal climate roughly splits the year in half, between dry and wet months.
Two major rivers cross the country: the Tonlé Sap River and the Mekong. While Mekong is important at an international scale, covering most of the Eastern and South-Eastern lowlands of Cambodia, it’s the Tonlé Sap (aka the Great Lake) which is centered in the heart of the country. On its way to the sea, it forms a lake carrying the same name, highly appreciated for its biological and economic potential.
Rolling plains cover most of the country, but Cambodia also has three mountain ranges (the Cardamom Mountains and Dâmrei Mountains in the South-East and the Dangrek Mountains in the North). This complex set of various altitudes, rivers, climate and geographical position has lead to a well-developed wildlife throughout the country.
Cambodia’s Wildlife as Threatened Diversity
There are more than 2000 species of living animals in Cambodia, most of them freshwater and marine fishes, but also mammals, reptiles, and birds. International organizations concerned with the conservation and protection (i.e. Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, etc.) have developed a keen interest in Cambodia and efforts are made to keep endangered, critically endangered, and threatened species safe. Over the years, this resulted in the creation of national parks like Virachey, Botum Sakor, Preah Monivong, and Phnom Kulen.
The main attractions in this miscellaneous array of wildlife are mammals. Tigers, serows, gaurs, dholes, Sambar deer, leopard cats, and sun bears are present, even if, in most cases, the only way you can actually see such an animal is in one of the many Cambodia’s zoos. There are also fascinating reptiles – blood pythons, king cobras, and the elongated tortoises, and birds – great white pelicans, little cormorants, grey herons, etc.
The Khmer cuisine is focused on the consumption of fish. The extremely wide diversity of fish of this specific ecosystem is however vulnerable to the intensive consumption, largely unattended.
A Place with Its Own Identity
Even if the country is economically poor, it is very rich in natural living resources. Visiting these places, you get the feeling that people coexist with a distinct collection of wild animals. The agricultural way of life, doubled by the strong connection with nature Cambodians have developed over the centuries, creates a peculiar setting. Despite illegal trade, fishing, poaching, and deforestation, and supported by organized actions throughout the country, wildlife in Cambodia is heading a positive direction based on two main principles: to maintain the integrity of existing species and to better protect their natural habitats.