Prek Toal Sanctuary
Cambodia has some extraordinary wildlife reserves; Prek Toal Sanctuary is one such place. Located in Battambang province in Cambodia’s Northwest, it is a wildlife sanctuary located within the Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve. The biosphere, one of three areas around the Tonlé Sap lake, is dedicated to the preservation of fauna and flora of Cambodia’s rich and diverse environment in this stunning sanctuary.
The Prek Toal Sanctuary consists of seasonally inundated freshwater swamp forest with high botanical diversity. Short tree shrub makes up most of the landscape. Forming a dense under story with scattered large trees, which form the vital nesting ground for large water birds.
It is unmatched throughout Southeast Asia for the diversity of populations of endangered water birds it supports through the dry season. Access to the sanctuary is by boat.
The numbers of birds and fish have risen due to authorities clamping down on poaching such as stopping the theft of eggs and illegal fishing. These initiatives as well as other moves by authorities and locals are benefitting other fauna and flora as well. The locals are also beginning to reap the benefits of protecting their environment.
Director of Battambang’s Department of Environment Kort Boran said that this is due to tightening of laws on wildlife protection and a change in people’s behaviour. For example; nest monitoring revealed that 20 percent more foul have been hatched and 10 percent more birds are nesting in the wildlife sanctuary.
This is an area where not so long ago local communities didn’t particularly pay much attention to the environment, now it is a different story. Another indicator of the success of preservation programs has seen a 30 percent increase in its bird population alone in recent times.
You can virtually visit the sanctuary if you want to experience a guided tour.
This and other conservation areas are drawing an increasing number of visitors who want to experience Cambodia’s natural environment. In particular, the enormous variety of birds, mammals, and other wildlife and plants.
Kort also said that the authorities often tell the people to help protect Cambodia’s endangered birds by not killing them. By no longer poaching they will make the area more attractive for visitors and locals can earn money from tourism. They seem to embrace the conservation of birds now that they know of its importance.
The area has rare birds like Spot-billed Pelican, Black-headed Ibis, Heron and Masked Finfoot. And, that’s not all. Visit the Chong Khneas crocodile farm, cruise across Tonle Sap and spot ibis, storks, and pelicans including the huge lesser and greater adjutant storks, the milky stork and the spot-billed pelican. Even the uninitiated will be impressed, as these birds have huge wingspans and build enormous nests. There are also Cormorants and Egrets nesting, socialising and feeding. In all, more than 150 species of birds have been sighted here.
The flooded freshwater forest environment of the sanctuary is a precious natural habitat for a number of endangered birds and is considered the most significant breeding ground for threatened waterbird species in all of Southeast Asia.
Large flocks of cormorants, storks and pelicans are almost guaranteed from January to May, along with herons, egrets and terns. The world-famous sanctuary harbours seven species of water birds of global significance: Spot billed Pelican, Milky Stork, Painted Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Greater Adjutant, Black headed Ibis, and Oriental Darter. There is a globally significant population of Grey-headed Fish Eagles and the secretive Masked Finfoot. Other highlights include three different types of Kingfisher, Bitterns and at least four fish eagles. Some of these birds are also endangered.
A visit to the sanctuary can include a Cambodian-style lunch at a floating restaurant. Trips to the sanctuary also bring you up close and personal with the fascinating floating village of Prek Toal, a much more rewarding destination. While exploring the sanctuary and surrounds, the unique opportunity to see authentic floating fishing villages and watch the friendly fishing families go about their day.
There are also crocodiles, snakes, and catfish at the Chong Khneas Crocodile and Fish farm. Travel by boat and pass stilted houses, flooded forests, and floating markets.
The best time to visit is during the peak season between December to early February when the concentration of birds is highest. As water starts to dry up elsewhere, the birds congregate here. The birds remain beyond February, but the sanctuary becomes virtually inaccessible due to low water levels. It is also possible to visit from September, but the bird numbers may be lower. The best time to see birds is early morning or late afternoon and this means an early start or an overnighter at Prek Toal’s environment office, where there is very basic accommodation.
Getting to the sanctuary under your own steam requires a 20-minute motorcycle or taxi ride to the floating village of Chong Kneas then a boat to the environment office. From here, a small boat will take you into the sanctuary, which takes about one hour. A boat trip to Prek Toal takes about two hours from Chong Kneas boat dock.
An overnight stay can also be arranged in a floating house in the village allowing the visitor to be in the core reserve for dawn.
You can also be part of this exciting experience by becoming an eco-volunteer.
Try your hand at some environmentally friendly projects.
Asian Elephant Projects
Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary
Sea Turtle Conservancy
Osoam Cardamom Community Centre