Transforming ecosystems and livelihoods in Cambodia

 community patrol
Villagers on bird surveillance training in a Tmatboey wildlife conservation site in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. (Photo: Sok Sony/Wildlife Conservation Society)

The Northern Plains of Cambodia are exceptionally important for global biodiversity. Overexploitation, particularly from uncontrolled commercial hunting of large mammals, logging of forests and destructive fishing practices, has posed a significant threat to this biodiversity.

The loss of this biodiversity particularly affects poor rural communities that depend on eco-system goods and services for their survival and well-being.


  • In the Preah Vihear Protected Forest there has been a 94.5 percent reduction in the number of logging incidences and an 88.5 percent decrease in hunting incidences over six years.
  • UNDP manages 512 projects on ecosystems and biodiversity in 146 countries, worth US $1.5 billion in funding from the GEF and other sources, and $3.5 billion in co-financing from a range of partners.
  • More than 2,000 protected areas in 85 countries, covering 272 million hectares, have been established since the programme was initiated.
  • More than 5,000 government officials and local community members trained to participate in conservation planning.

To address this problem, UNDP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and in partnership with the Royal Government of Cambodia and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), initiated a project to integrate biodiversity conservation into tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing and hunting.

The project promoted eco-tourism initiatives that generate income for local communities.

“Eating a bird, I can only fill my family’s stomach once, but guiding tourists to see the bird I get $5 each time. Our community is earning thousands of dollars showing the same birds over and over again,” says Yin Sary, a former poacher who now works as a tour guide in a community-managed eco-tourism project.

He is part of the Tmatboey Ibis project, which has been remarkably successful in promoting a community-managed approach to eco-tourism. This initiative addresses rural poverty and the loss of endangered wildlife, including the Giant and White-shouldered Ibises, which are among the rarest birds in the world. Using the Ibises as “flagships,” the initiative established a local tourism enterprise that uses revenue from eco-tourism as an incentive for the local community to protect and manage wildlife.

WCS and local NGO partners trained community members to maintain the accommodations and work as tour guides. A village development fund, with monetary contributions from tourists, was established to support infrastructure projects that benefit the entire community.

There have been major decreases in the hunting and trade of wildlife species. Over the first four years, tourism bookings increased by more than 25 percent annually; the number of bookings has recently plateaued, which will help to ensure sustainability. Tourist contributions of nearly $44,000 to the village development fund have also benefited the entire community through investments in community development projects, including agricultural support, road improvements and the construction of new wells.

The community clearly recognizes that the region’s endangered wildlife is of value for eco-tourism and should be protected.

Due to the success of the initiative, Tmatboey won the Wild Asia Foundation’s prize as best community-based eco-tourism initiative.

This accolade in turn brought the initiative to the attention of Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, which subsequently requested a further six sites be identified and developed for nature-based tourism.