The Cardamom Mountains are located in southwest Cambodia. The western edge of the Cardamom region abuts the Thai border, while the easternmost part ends about sixty miles northwest of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The region’s area is 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares). The highest point in the range (and in Cambodia) is Mount Aural, at 1,813 meters (5,946 feet). There are five main rivers that run through the Cardamoms, creating dozens of waterfalls. About 25,000 people live in this region, some of whom are ethnic minorities, such as the Porr.
There are two wildlife sanctuaries in the Cardamoms, both of which were decreed by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1993 solely on the basis of aerial photographs. Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is in the western part of the range, and Mt. Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is in the east. These are “paper” parks only: they exist only by law, with none of the active management necessary for a wildlife preserve.
Khmer Rouge guerrillas retreated to the Cardamoms after losing power in 1979, and for the next twenty years, no one wanted to enter that area for fear of the KR and the mines they placed in it. As a result, the region remained untouched and undeveloped. Thousands of Cambodians left the country before and during the KR holocaust by walking over the Cardamoms into refugee camps in Thailand.
Today, the Cardamom Mountains region is the largest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, preserving a remarkable number of species that are endangered (and in some cases extinct) elsewhere in the world. However, without proper conservation and protection, this area and its inhabitants are now at the mercy of logging interests, as well as poachers.
For a more detailed look at some of the fauna of the Cardamoms, please click on the following: