Tiger tourism: Cambodia’s newest cash ploy

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An Indochinese tiger is photographed in Thailand. The last wild tiger in Cambodia was seen in 2007 and the government plans to bring the practically extinct species back, for praise and profit.

Just 20 years ago, Cambodia was a country that many travelers to Southeast Asia skipped over to get to Thailand, Vietnam and other regional rivals. These days, they are flocking to see the country’s pristine beaches, picturesque pagodas and famed Angkor temple complex.

In 2016, international arrivals to Cambodia increased by an annual 5% and pushed past 5 million, a number that is expected to increase by 11.5% this year and signifies a massive boost from the total of roughly 1 million tourists who visited in 2004.

But fears about limited scope for growth have spurred the government to consider new strategies to ratchet up tourism even further. One of the latest initiatives is “tiger tourism.” Officials are aiming to bring the big cats, which have been functionally extinct in Cambodia since the last one was seen in 2007, back to the kingdom, a plan that they hope will bring both international praise for the revival of an extinct species and financial gain in the form of tourism returns.

In early October, Thong Khon, the minister of tourism, told a workshop on ecotourism and wildlife that the ministry was aiming to turn Cambodia’s eastern provinces, which are largely ignored by tourists, into a wildlife haven buoyed by its new tigers.

“The ministry of tourism aims to develop the northeast, especially Mondulkiri [Province], to make it one of the country’s major tourist draws, particularly for ecotourism and wildlife,” he said.

But the reintroduction plan has brought its share of criticism. Poaching is still endemic in Cambodia, and some are concerned that the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri Province, where the tigers will live, lacks sufficient habitat and prey for the animals.

Decimated population

In 1999, Cambodia was said to have the world’s second-highest tiger population, according to the Cat Action Treasury, a U.S. wildlife nongovernmental organization. By 2007, that population was virtually extinct, and the last Indochinese tiger spotted in Cambodia was captured by camera trap roaming Mondulkiri Province.

Though some experts doubt the claim that Cambodia had hundreds of tigers in the late 1990s, it is still indisputable that many of them died from poaching, habitat destruction and other reasons. And in Cambodia today, where record deforestation and rampant corruption still contribute to environmental devastation across the country, things do not look much better.

Read full article at NIKKEI Asian Review: https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Life/Tiger-tourism-Cambodia-s-newest-cash-ploy

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