South-East Asia

Planned eco-tourism center will pay respects to Cambodia’s wildlife and dark history

Phnom Penh-based collaborative design practice Atelier COLE recently revealed plans to create an information center in Cambodia to not only celebrate the country’s extremely diverse wildlife, but also memorialize the region’s tragic past. It’s a laudable move towards sustainable eco-tourism in the region.

Cambodia is one of the countries in the world with the most spectacular biodiversity. Many of the country’s species are recognized by the IUCN or World Conservation Union as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered due to deforestation and habitat destruction, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and farming, fishing, and forestry concessions. Poaching is another problem for cambodian wildlife. The info center will be located in the 12,650-hectare Ang Trapeang Thmor wildlife reserve in northeast Cambodia.

The Ang Trapaing Thmor Crane Sanctuary is a protected area of Cambodia on the site of a large Khmer Rouge irrigation project built during the 1970s. It’s a perfect place to celebrate both the spectacular wildlife, and remember the country’s bloody past. The Khmer Rouge government arrested, tortured, and eventually executed anyone suspected of belonging to several categories of supposed “enemies” – which could pretty much mean anyone. Modern studies estimate that the government has killed anywhere between 740,000 and 3,000,000 people – about half of them through direct execution, and the rest through starvation or diseases.

Initially, the info center was supposed to only focus on the environmental hotspot, but Atelier COLE soon expanded the design scope to fit the bloody history of the area.

“It will put the current natural wonders of the site in their historic context, allowing people to understand not just what they see before them but what happened in the past,” said Simon Manhood, a technical advisor at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to The Phnom Penh Post. In addition to its historical and ecological interpretative exhibitions, the information center will also feature a cafe, shop, and viewing platforms.

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