BirdLife welcomes new Partner: NatureLife Cambodia

Despite being one of the most biodiverse countries in Asia, Cambodia had no national NGOs working directly on conservation as recently as 15 years ago. BirdLife set out to change that, and in 2004 established a country programme. Fast forward to 2021 and NatureLife Cambodia is the newest Partner in the BirdLife flock. We talked to Vorsak Bou, the Executive Director of NatureLife Cambodia and former Manager of the BirdLife Cambodia Programme, to find out more.

Tell us how it all started…

In 2003, BirdLife began an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area inventory in Cambodia and identified several sites that were outside of the existing protected area system and required urgent support. They needed the help of a BirdLife Partner, but at the time, there were no organisations that could do the work. So in 2004, BirdLife decided to set up the Cambodia programme, with the plan to eventually form an independent national conservation NGO. We began the process of setting up NatureLife Cambodia in 2015, and in 2017 were able to register as a national NGO.  

What are some of your biggest successes to date?

A lot of the conservation work undertaken so far in Cambodia – for example, at the Lomphat and Siem Pang wildlife sanctuaries – has been run under the BirdLife Cambodia programme, while we’ve focused on building up our capacity. But between 2018 and now, we’ve started to do more. Over 9,000 hectares of land in Stung Sen – a seasonally flooded freshwater swamp forest at the Tonle Sap lake, rich in biodiversity – has just been designated as a Ramsar Site, and we’re supporting the local communities there to establish protected areas. We’ve also leased land in the lower Mekong Delta which we’re using to grow rice as supplemental food for Sarus Cranes Grus antigone (Vulnerable), while also harvesting and selling some of the crop as bird-friendly rice. And obviously we’re thrilled to become a BirdLife Partner!

What are some of the biggest challenges for nature conservation in Cambodia?

It is very difficult to compete with large, well-established international NGOs for funding. In Cambodia, people tend to be more interested in supporting humanitarian, education and health charities, which adds to the challenge. But there has been a lot of awareness-raising recently 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 has been a big focus. What’s the plan for this landscape?

This is an important site for Critically Endangered ibises and vultures. BirdLife worked extremely hard to advocate for its protection and set up capacity on the ground. During this bridging period, the project will be handed over by the BirdLife Cambodia Programme to a locally owned project partner called Rising Phoenix who will work with the government in the management of the site.

What’s next for NatureLife Cambodia?

The top priority for us now is to complete the transition from the BirdLife Cambodia programme. From there, we’ll look at building additional capacity, especially in fundraising and science. We also plan on continuing to build on our work at Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary (an important site for Giant IbisThaumatibis gigantea and White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni, both Critically Endangered) with support from the BirdLife Forest Accelerator, co-ordinate species working groups (vulture, ibis and Sarus Crane) and expand more at Tonle Sap and the Lower Mekong Delta.

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