Cambodian animals are state property under Article 48 of the Forestry Law of 2002. This places the Forestry Administration (FA) in charge of research programs and conservation duties. The FA carries this out through its Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity. Conservation programs in the field are often conducted in cooperation between the government, local communities and NGOs.

Among the main institutions responsible for animal protection is The Wildlife Rescue Center in Phnom Ta Mao, which accepts animals recovered from the illegal wildlife trade. Some other private initiatives fulfil the same role, such as the Angkor Center for Conservation Biology.

Cambodia is a member of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and issues reports about the progress of biodiversity conservation.

Temples of Cambodia. Photo by ND Strupler. Updated on 26 July 2010. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Picture of mokey in the album of Temples of Cambodia. Photo by ND Strupler, taken on 26 July 2010. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

There are many areas of Cambodia that are important for animal diversity, some recognized as wildlife sanctuaries (ODC Map Explorer). Kulen Promtep was the first1 to be established in 2004, situated on the north of Siem Reap. It has a concentration of globally threatened species, 36 listed under the IUCN red list, including 6 critically endangered species. Among them, the most famous are:

  • Giant ibis
  • Wroughton’s free tailed bat, (only known in the sanctuary and in another site In India)
  • Asian elephant
  • Eld’s deer
  • Siamese crocodile.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has launched several rescue programs2 (Saving the Irrawady Dolphin, Reintroducing Tigers to Cambodia, Endangered Wildlife).

(In 2018, WWF reported good news about the Irrawaddy dolphin. A census it carries out with government support showed that the population of river dolphins in the Mekong had risen from 80 to 92 in just two years. This the first increase since records began more than twenty years ago.)3

The Wildlife Conservation Society also works closely with the Royal Government in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area,4 established in 2008. The protected area is home for rare species such as yellow-cheeked crested gibbons and black-shanked doucs.

The Wildlife Alliance operates in the Cardamom Mountains,5 which is said to be the best preserved wilderness area in Southeast Asia. The region had, however, been damaged by Khmer Rouge forces, and a lot of natural habitats were destroyed, now needing restoration.

Tigers have been functionally extinct in Cambodia for several years (there is no breeding population)6 and the last Indochinese tiger was photographed in the wild in 2007. A project is currently being considered to reintroduce7 a tiger population.8

There are believed to be around 400–600 elephants in Cambodia, mainly in east and northeastern provinces but also in the Cardamoms. Work by Fauna & Flora International and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland indicates a core population in the Cardamom mountains of around 50 elephants.9 

More important species are mentioned in the ODC pages on Biodiversity, Marine and Coastal Areas and Rivers and Lakes.

Threats to animals

The main reason for biodiversity depletion remains development at the expense of species habitats. Deforestation, infrastructure building and land conversion are the driving factors for many species’ inability to find safe environments to develop. Laws protecting animals are not effectively enforced.10 Most endangered species have failed to adapt to dramatic changes in their natural habitat.

Another major problem is illegal hunting, poaching and animal exploitation, especially targeting elephants in Cambodia.11 Some animals’ body parts are still valued at a high price on the black market, and materials such as ivory are still in high demand. Smuggling of parts of endangered animals (bear paws, crocodile heads, elephant tails, lizard skin) has been reported12 in Cambodia and in neighboring countries. In addition, elephants are exploited for tourism purposes, sometime leading to bad treatment and death by exhaustion.13

Animals hunted for their meat include monkeys, deer, sambar, pigs, muntjacs and many types of reptiles and birds.14 Even common species are under the threat from commercial activities, legal or illegal.

The Tonle Sap fish production is decreasing, because of – among other factors – resource pressure and unsustainable fishing techniques (electrification, overly tight fishing nets), killing an unnecessary amount of fish, including newborns that will not grow to become a resource themselves and reproduce.15

Finally, with climate change already taking effect, climate extremes are rising and animals’ habitats are increasingly threatened.16 Habitats are endangered on a broader scale, since extreme conditions are now found in every part of Cambodia, which was not the case in the past. Overall liveable habitat pressure leads to tremendous threats to animals.

Last updated: 30 May 2019

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