Cambodia eco-tourism saves biodiversity, spurs livelihoods

May 20, 2011

Families in Tmatboey, Cambodia have seen their living standards improve as a result of eco-tourism. (Photo: Eleanor Briggs)

Phnom Penh - A biodiversity conservation and eco-tourism initiative in the northern plains of Cambodia has helped to spur new livelihoods for low-income villagers near a prime bird-watching spot and to avert the demise of the White-shouldered Ibis, one of the world’s most critically endangered species.

The initiative - funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the Government of Cambodia and the United States based Wildlife Conservation Society - has increased tourism to Tmatboey village, in Preah Vihear province, by more than 25 percent each year since the project started in 2004.

During the last seven years, the rise in tourism has lifted job prospects and living standards among Tmatboey’s 237 families whose livelihoods had previously relied on rice paddy farming, collection of forest and wildlife products, and seasonal fishing.

Crop cultivation and poaching threatened the region’s wildlife, including 40 species on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as the Giant and White-shouldered Ibis, registered on the list as ‘critically endangered’.

“Eating a bird fills my family’s stomach only once,” said Yin Sary, a former poacher who now works as a Tmatboey tour guide. “But I get five dollars a time for guiding tourists to the birds, and our community earns thousands of dollars showing the same birds over and over.

”Tourist contributions of over US$26,000 to a fund managed by the community have benefited all Tmatboey residents, with proceeds invested in village-wide development projects, including agricultural support, road improvements and construction of new wells and water pumps.

In addition to a major decrease in the hunting and trade of threatened wildlife species, the project’s conservation of the surrounding habitat has helped to lead to a fivefold increase in the number of nesting White-shouldered Ibis, from a single pair in 2002 to five pairs in 2010.

Under the UNDP-GEF project, community members – trained by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other local non-governmental partners – take responsible for maintaining visitor accommodation, providing meals, and conducting tours of the area.

Among those participating in the project, 20-year-old Shreng Chriang had no income after her family sold their rice paddy to pay medical expenses for her ailing father. From her eco-tourism-related work, Chriang earns an additional US$190 per year.

Based on the conservation successes, Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, collaborating in implementation of the project, aims to replicate the Tmatboey model in other protected areas of the country.

The International Day for Biological Diversity


UNDP is assisting developing countries to address biodiversity and ecosystem loss which threaten to increase poverty and undermine development. With support from Global Environment Facility and bilateral donors, UNDP is assisting 140 countries, including 23 Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) and eight Small Island Developing States to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, and to secure ecosystem services that are vital to human welfare and their development efforts. Within a year, UNDP will be implementing projects in an additional 12 LDC’s, thereby supporting nearly three-quarters of all LDC’s in the world. More information is available at

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