About one quarter of Cambodia is made up of protected areas and national parks. Cambodia’s large mammals include tigers, leopards, bears, elephants, wild cows and deer. The many bird species in the country include cormorants, cranes, kingfishers, hornbills, and pelicans. Keen birders can see a number of very rare water birds in Cambodia such as the Giant and White-shouldered ibis. Popular places include the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, which is home to rare water birds such as Lesser and Greater adjutants, Milky storks and Spot-billed pelicans, as well as Ang Trapeng Thmor in Banteay Meanchey province, home to the Sarus crane (Grus antigone).
The Mekong River is second only to the Amazon River in fish biodiversity and provides a home for one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, the three-metre-long Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas). The critically endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin also inhabits stretches of the Mekong River north of Kratie, in the north-east.
The national parks regularly draw visitors for their combination of natural attractions and activities:
Virachey National Park
Virachey National Park overlaps Ratanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces in north-eastern Cambodia covering an area of 3,325 km² bordering Laos and Viet Nam. The park is one of only two Cambodian ASEAN Heritage Parks and is one of the top priority areas for conservation in South-east Asia. Largely unexplored, it holds a large assortment of wildlife, waterfalls and mountains, dense semi-evergreen lowlands, montane forests, upland savannah, bamboo thickets and occasional patches of mixed deciduous forest. Most of the area lies above 400 metres up to 1,500 metres.
Kirirom National Park
Kirirom National Park, Kampong Speu Province, extends over the eastern part of the Cardamom Mountains in the South West. It is located 112 km from Phnom Penh on the road to Sihanoukville. Lying at 675 m above sea level, Kirirom was Cambodia’s first designated national park. It contains many footpaths through the forests with a number of small lakes and waterfalls. Among the animals in the park, the following deserve mention: deer, gaur, banteng, Spotted linsang, and Pileated gibbon.
Ream National Park
Ream National Park 18 km from Sihanoukville was established in 1993, when the Cambodian government began to take action to protect many of its threatened areas. It encompasses 210 km², including 150 km² of terrestrial and 60 km² of marine habitats. The national park contains beaches, mangrove forests, tropical jungles and over 150 species of birds, and is well noted for its monkey population.
Bokor National Park
Bokor National Park, or Preah Monivong National Park, comprises 1,581 km² of protected land, most of it primary forest that is particularly rich in endemic flora and, provides a home to globally endangered fauna such as the tiger, Chestnut-headed partridge and Green peafowl. In addition to the rainforest itself, with its unceasing insect and bird-calls, the park’s main attractions are Popokvil Falls and the abandoned French hill station of Bokor. Also located in the south-western part of the country in the coastal zone area, the national park is a short drive from Kampot.
The Cardamom Mountain
The Cardamom Mountain range made up of Mount Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, Central Cardamoms Protected Forest and Mount Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, is the biggest protected area in Cambodia. The area encompasses three of South-east Asia’s most threatened ecosystems: lowland evergreen forests, riparian forests and wetlands. Located near the Thailand border, the fabled Cardamom Mountains is an area of breathtaking beauty and astonishing biodiversity. Covering 20,000 km², the remote peaks – up to 1800 m high – and river valleys are home to at least 59 globally threatened animal species, including tigers, Asian elephants, bears, Siamese crocodiles, pangolins and eight species of tortoises and turtles.