The Cambodian government has handed over nearly 20 percent of Botum Sakor National Park to a Chinese real-estate firm building a massive casino and resorts in the middle of pristine rainforest, reports Reuters. The city-sized resorts, costing $3.8 billion, will include a 64 kilometers highway, an airport, hotels, and golf courses. Botum Sakur is home to a number of endangered species including the pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).
"Cambodia is giving away 36,000 hectares to a foreign entity with little if any oversight or obvious benefit to the people," Mathieu Pellerin, a researcher with Cambodian human rights group Licadho, told Reuters. Construction of the pleasure cities by Union Group is displacing local Cambodians, some who have lived there for generations.
Researchers have recorded 44 mammal species and 533 birds in the park. Other imperiled species include the white winged duck (Asarcornis scutulata), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), Asian slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), Indochinese silvered langur (Trachypithecus germaini), hog deer (Axis porcinus), dhole (Cuon alpinus), the elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongate), the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), and the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).
This is not the first time Cambodia has taken land from conservation areas. Last year the government carved out 9,000 hectares from Virachey National Park for a rubber plantation. In 2007 the government approved Australian gold-mining company, Indochine Mining, rights to exploratory mining in half the park.
Recently Licadho released a report showing that more than half of all Cambodia's arable land had been handed to private corporations as economic land concessions.