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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kravanh Mountains

The Kravanh Mountains, or literally Cardamom Mountains is a mountain range in the south west of Cambodia. The highest elevation of the Cardamom Mountains is Phnom Aural at 1,813 metres or 5,948 ft high. This is also Cambodia's highest peak. The mountain range extends along a southeast-northwest axis, and is continued to the southeast by the Damrei Mountains and to the northwest by an extension into Thailand territory known as the Soi Dao Mountains. The southern boundary of the Cardamoms is in Koh Kong Province and the northern boundary is in Veal Veang District in Pursat Province.

Koh Kong LoggingThis range of mountains formed one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge and many parts are largely inaccessible. The inaccessibility of the hills helped to preserve the area the mountains now form an endangered ecoregion. The mountains contain many jar sites scattered around the mountains. The jars are a unique feature to the mountain. They are 60 cm high and carry the bones of deceased Cambodians. Local legends suggest the bones are the remains of Cambodian royalty.

TigerThe mountain range is home to fourteen endangered and threatened mammal species including the Asian elephant, Indochinese Tiger, Malayan sun bear and Pileated gibbon, Irrawaddy and humpback dolphins, and half of Cambodia’s bird species. It is the last place on earth with Siamese crocodiles and is the only habitat remaining in Cambodia for the nearly extinct batagur baska or Royal turtle.

The population of the Cardamom Mountain Range is extremely poor, and threats to the biological diversity of the region include habitat loss due to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and forest fires caused by slash-and-burn agriculture. Among the international conservation organizations working in the area are Wildlife Alliance, Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

Dense tropical rain forest prevails on their western slopes, which annually receive from 150 to 200 inches or 3,800–5,000 mm of rainfall. By contrast only 40 to 60 inches or 1,000 to 1,500 mm fall on the wooded eastern slopes in the rain shadow facing the interior Cambodian plain. On their slopes cardamom and pepper are still grown commercially.

Tourism is relatively new to the area. In 2008, Wildlife Alliance launched a community-based ecotourism program in the village of Chi Phat, marketed as the gateway to the Cardamoms. However the number of international visitors remains very small in comparison to the tourism development of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, or Phnom Penh.

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