The organizer and catalyst for ecotourism in Cambodia is the Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation, working in conjunction with its international partner, Wildlife Conservation Society. WCS founded SVC in 2006 for the express purpose of providing "an alternative sustainable livelihood from ecotourism for the local communities at the sites that WCS prioritizes for conservation."
It's happening, and it's working.
The SVC logo on our car door (Photos by Narca)
The logo comes from a Sarus Crane motif carved into temple stone at Angkor Wat.
I first learned about the SVC through a long-time friend, Howie Nielsen, who has been training local birding guides in Cambodia for this project. Judging by the quality of the guides we met, the effort is going very well.
Funds generated by SVC projects have enabled villages to dig wells for access to clean water, build schools, maintain roads and bridges, and build health clinics. In return, the villagers have become the guardians of some of the most critically endangered birds anywhere.
The populations of endangered birds within the project sites are rising. In the case of White-shouldered Ibis at Tmatboey, a graph on the SVC website shows the ibis population growing from roughly 2 to more than 30 during a 9-year period.
Besides ecotourism, the villagers have few alternatives for making an income. They farm rice. They raise Water Buffalo and other livestock.
Water Buffalo at Prey Veng, our first campsite and a region important for the continuing existence of critically endangered Giant Ibis, Greater Adjutant, and White-winged Duck
And they harvest resin from several species of trees to use to waterproof boats and other objects.
Jim at a tree where resin is collected
As Nara said to us many times, "They have nothing." He should know. He grew up as the son of poor farmers, and through his own initiative, talent and intelligence––with help from SVC––is crafting a different life for himself. In a place like Cambodia, even a small investment in ecotourism can bring new hope and opportunity.
Conditions for travelers are more basic than in many countries, but they are manageable, and I do plan to fashion a tour through Naturalist Journeys, which we'll be offering in January or February of 2014.