The land under the Phnom Tamao forest is too sandy for a forest, a new zoo will be built in exchange for the satellite-city development, and wild pigs were destroying crops on nearby farms. That’s what government officials claimed in response to growing dissent over flattening the Takeo province forest.
Under fire over the rapid destruction of the Phnom Tamao forest by private developers, the Forestry Administration issued a statement Thursday afternoon defending the project.
The statement, also shared by the government’s spokespersons unit, took various approaches to justify the controversial development, which has seen the forest privatized for tycoons and around 130 hectares razed since the weekend.
The Forestry Administration said on Thursday that the land was not very good for a forest.
“This area is full of sand, on which the trees couldn’t grow well. The government decided to take this area to develop as a satellite city, which will be near the new airport and close to the Bati resort,” it said, referring to Tonle Bati lake, a popular weekend spot that is also slated to be partially filled for development.
The statement explained that the Phnom Tamao forest had not been sold to the developers, but was part of an exchange: The companies would build a new zoo in Siem Reap as the condition for receiving the land, and also build parks, reservoirs, museums and a Mondulkiri attraction.
The Forestry Administration added that the wildlife in the forest was not significant and had been a nuisance to local farmers.
“To clarify, this area doesn’t have any important rare wildlife as has been mentioned. But this area has wild pigs which destroy people’s crops,” it said.
The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center and Zoo will remain on 400 hectares of the 2,000-plus hectare area, fenced off and protected, it said.
Nick Marx, director of Wildlife Alliance, has said that there are believed to be more than 100 endangered sambar deer in the forest, while painted storks, pelicans and greater adjutants make it their home for parts of the year.
He said on Thursday that the clearing of the forest was a “betrayal” by the Forestry Administration, which co-runs the zoo with Wildlife Alliance, and that conservation organizations should “think carefully” about continuing to support conservation in a country where the government shows no interest in it.