Although it is one of the most biodiverse countries in Asia, Fifteen years ago, Cambodia did not have any national NGOs working directly on nature conservation. BirdLife wanted to change this and in 2004 set up a country program. Fast forward to 2021 and NatureLife Cambodia is the newest partner in the BirdLife herd. We spoke to Vorsak Bou, the Executive Director of NatureLife Cambodia and former manager of the BirdLife Cambodia program, to find out more.
Tell us how it all started …
In 2003, BirdLife began inventorying key bird and biodiversity areas in Cambodia and identified several locations that were outside the existing protected area system and in urgent need of assistance. They needed the help of a BirdLife partner, but at the time there were no organizations that could do the job. So in 2004 BirdLife decided to set up the program for Cambodia with a plan to eventually create an independent national NGO for nature conservation. We started the founding of NatureLife Cambodia in 2015 and were able to register as a national NGO in 2017.
What are some of your greatest achievements to date?
Much of the conservation work that has been carried out in Cambodia to date – for example in the Lomphat and Siem Pang nature reserves – has been carried out under the BirdLife program in Cambodia, while we have focused on building our capacities. But between 2018 and now we started doing more. Over 9,000 hectares of land in Stung Sen – a seasonally flooded freshwater swamp forest on Lake Tonle Sap that is rich in biodiversity – has just been designated as a Ramsar area, and we are supporting the local communities in establishing protected areas. We have also leased land in the lower Mekong Delta where we grow rice as a feed supplement for Sarus Cranes Grus Antigone (susceptible) and harvest and sell part of the crop as bird-friendly rice. And of course we look forward to becoming a BirdLife partner!
What are some of the biggest conservation challenges in Cambodia?
It is very difficult to compete for funding with large, well-established international NGOs. In Cambodia, people are more interested in helping charities for humanitarian aid, education and health, which adds to the challenge. Lately, however, a lot has been raised about the importance of biodiversity – especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – which is helping to get more people interested in conservation and nature.
Siem Pang was a big focus. What’s the plan for this landscape?
This is an important site for endangered ibises and vultures. BirdLife has gone to great lengths to stand up for its protection and to set up capacities on site. During this bridging period, the BirdLife Cambodia program will hand over the project to a local project partner called Rising Phoenix who will work with the government to manage the site.
What’s next for NatureLife Cambodia?
The top priority for us now is to complete the transition from the BirdLife Cambodia program. From there we will try to build additional capacities, especially in the area of fundraising and science. We are also planning to expand our work in the Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary (an important site for giant IbisThaumatibis gigantea and white-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni, both critically endangered) with the support of the BirdLife Forest Accelerator to coordinate the working groups of the species (vultures), ibis and Sarus Crane) and continue to expand at Tonle Sap and in the lower Mekong Delta.
For more information on BirdLife’s work in developing new civil society organizations, please visit hatch.birdlife.org