Corruption is fueling widespread destruction of protected forests; Beng Per Sanctuary north of Phnom Penh has lost 60% of its forest
As you approach Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, five hours north of Phnom Penh, it’s difficult to tell exactly where the park begins. There is no audience of trees to greet you, no sign to welcome you. In many areas, there are no trees at all, the land more reminiscent of parched African savannah than Southeast Asian rainforest. Where trees do appear, they stand in uniform rows, with vessels taped to their trunks – archetypal features of rubber plantations.
While each area of terrain differs from the other, they typify the decimation of protected forest that’s ravaged the once great Beng Per for more than a decade. Vigilante groups and land defenders are going against the grain and doing what they can to protect the jungle, but they’re exceptional cases in a wider tale of loss. When first established in 1993, the park covered 2,425 square kilometers. By 2000, 1,990 square kilometers of forest remained, of which more than half – 1,020 square kilometers – was lost between 2001 and 2018, with the heaviest damage occurring from 2010 onward.
This trend shows no sign of slowing. The Global Land Analysis and Discovery lab at the University of Maryland detected more than 27,000 deforestation alerts between January 1 and April 25 this year. The consequences are dire, affecting not only native tree and animal species, but also the communities that call the forest their home.
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