Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Game Hunting Park Pitched for Cambodian

The Cambodian government is studying a Spanish company's proposal to convert a huge tract of jungle in the country's wild northeast into a game hunting park for big-spending tourists, a wildlife protection official said.

The Madrid-based NSOK Safaris company wants to use 247,100 acres in Rattanakiri province, which is home to an abundance of wildlife, including several endangered species, as well as several indigenous tribal minorities. The province is about 200 miles from the capital Phnom Penh.

The project envisages bungalows and luxury lodging built "for high-class, VIP tourists...or professional hunters," said Dany Chheang, deputy director of the Wildlife Protection Office of Cambodia's Agriculture Ministry.

NSOK made the proposal more than two years ago, but it remains unclear how much money it would invest in the project and when it could launch, he said.

Tourism is now one of Cambodia's major foreign exchange earners. But land disputes have become common between the rich and indigenous people, who are under pressure to give up their ancestral land to commercial developers.

Dany Chheang said setting up hunting safaris fits the government's efforts "to diversify options for eco-tourism activity in Cambodia."

He said about 30 types of animals, including deer, pigs and wild boar as well as reptiles and birds, could be put up for hunting, but shooting tigers would not be allowed.

Chris Greenwood, a spokesman from the World Wildlife Fund in Cambodia, called on the government to release more information about the plan. "Anything that threatens the survival of already endangered species is not a good thing for conservation in Cambodia," he said.

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