Cambodia thinks about tiger tourism to boost revenue

Published on : Saturday, December 16, 2017

indexJust 20 years ago, Cambodia skipped by many travelers to get to Thailand, Vietnam and other regional rivals. But now, 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.

However, fears about limited scope for growth have made the Cambodian government to consider new strategies to boost tourism even further. One of the latest initiatives is “tiger tourism.”

Officials are aiming to bring the big cats back to the country, which have been functionally extinct in Cambodia since the last one was seen in 2007. They hope that this plan would 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 said 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.

But this reintroduction plan has invited 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.

In 1999, Cambodia was said to have the world’s second-highest tiger population. By 2007, that population was virtually extinct, and the last Indochinese tiger spotted in Cambodia was captured by camera trap roaming Mondulkiri Province.

Many tigers died from poaching, habitat destruction and other reasons. In Cambodia today, where record deforestation and rampant corruption still contribute to environmental devastation across the country, things do not hold much promise.
But Cambodia has been inspired by India, a country that has more tigers than anywhere in the world, boasting of lucrative tiger parks of its own. In these sanctuaries, tourists can ride in jeeps and catch glimpses of the big cats. Keeping the tigers in properly managed environments is important to conserve and protect these endangered animals, and develop a lucrative new revenue stream from tourism. Although Cambodian officials are not sure where the new tigers will be sourced from, media reports cite India as a possibility.

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