Cambodia Burning - Sean Gallagher - Photographer & Filmmaker | Beijing, China
Aerial view of burning land near the Phnom Tnout Wildlife Sanctuary, Preah Vihear Province, northern Cambodia. During the dry season between January to March, hundreds of fires continually  rage across the country. Land is burnt by farmers, loggers and local people looking to either capture wildlife or clear land for agriculture. Aerial view of burning land near the Phnom Tnout Wildlife Sanctuary, Preah Vihear Province, northern Cambodia. During the dry season between January to March, hundreds of fires continually rage across the country. Land is burnt by farmers, loggers and local people looking to either capture wildlife or clear land for agriculture.
A Gibbon in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. A Gibbon in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia.
Cambodia-DeBen Davis, an American independent conservationist, battles a fire in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Fires are set by farmers, loggers and local people looking to either capture wildlife or clear land for agriculture. Cambodia-DeBen Davis, an American independent conservationist, battles a fire in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Fires are set by farmers, loggers and local people looking to either capture wildlife or clear land for agriculture.
A burning field in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. It is a sanctuary in name only as most of the land has been sold by the government for agricultural concessions. A burning field in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. It is a sanctuary in name only as most of the land has been sold by the government for agricultural concessions.
A burnt out forest in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Fires are set by farmers, loggers and local people looking to either capture wildlife or clear land for agriculture. A burnt out forest in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Fires are set by farmers, loggers and local people looking to either capture wildlife or clear land for agriculture.
A military policeman during a patrol looking for illegal loggers, in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. A military policeman during a patrol looking for illegal loggers, in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia.
Chainsaws confiscated from loggers in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Forest clearance is fuelled by demand for agricultural land and high value species of tree for the Asian furniture market. Chainsaws confiscated from loggers in the Phnom Tnout Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. Forest clearance is fuelled by demand for agricultural land and high value species of tree for the Asian furniture market.
Members of the Prey Lang Community Rangers, a group of local farmers, in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, during one of their regular patrols in the forest monitoring illegal logging. Prey Lang is one of Asia's most threatened evergreen woodlands, totalling over 3,500 square kilometres in size. Illegal logging and clearance of forest for agriculture continue to threaten the last remaining pockets of forest in central Cambodia. Members of the Prey Lang Community Rangers, a group of local farmers, in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, during one of their regular patrols in the forest monitoring illegal logging. Prey Lang is one of Asia's most threatened evergreen woodlands, totalling over 3,500 square kilometres in size. Illegal logging and clearance of forest for agriculture continue to threaten the last remaining pockets of forest in central Cambodia.
Aerial view of cut trees in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, northern Cambodia. Cambodia has one of the world's fastest rates of deforestation and it is estimated only 3% of primary forest is now left. Aerial view of cut trees in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, northern Cambodia. Cambodia has one of the world's fastest rates of deforestation and it is estimated only 3% of primary forest is now left.
A logging operation in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, in north-central Cambodia. The government has sold concessions to national and international companies, giving them permission to clear the 'protected' forests of Cambodia. A logging operation in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, in north-central Cambodia. The government has sold concessions to national and international companies, giving them permission to clear the 'protected' forests of Cambodia.
Cleared forests in Preah Vihear Province, in northern Cambodia near the border with Loas. Most of the land Cambodia's forests once occupied have been sold by the government for agricultural concessions. Cleared forests in Preah Vihear Province, in northern Cambodia near the border with Loas. Most of the land Cambodia's forests once occupied have been sold by the government for agricultural concessions.
A cashew nut plantation in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. It is a sanctuary in name only as most of the land has been sold by the government for agricultural concessions. A cashew nut plantation in the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, in northern Cambodia. It is a sanctuary in name only as most of the land has been sold by the government for agricultural concessions.

Cambodia – 2020

“Cambodia has one of the fastest rates of forest loss in the world. In broad swaths of the country, densely forested landscapes—even those in protected areas—have been clear-cut over the past decade.” – NASA Earth Observatory

Deforestation has been accelerating across Cambodia in the early 21st Century and it is estimated that there is only three percent of primary forest left throughout the country.

In 2018, fires burnt in record numbers throughout the forests of north and central Cambodia. At their peak during the dry season between January and March, it is estimated up to 1,800 fires were burning in the country, more than in any other country throughout South East Asia at that time.

The main drivers behind deforestation in Cambodia are conversions of forest lands for agricultural use and targeted logging of valuable species, such as Rosewood, for the Chinese furniture market.

Rubber plantations are the most ubiquitous and are spread throughout the country. According to the Khymer Times, “the Southeast Asian nation made a gross revenue of roughly 377 million U.S. dollars from exports of the commodity last year [2019].” Exports are mainly to countries such as China, Singapore, and Malaysia. Large swathes of Cambodia’s natural forests have been cleared to make way for plantations that generate large revenues for the government.

The Cambodian government also continues to grant concessions to domestic and international companies that allow them to legally clear the country’s forests for agricultural purposes, or to target the country’s trees for harvesting timber.

Decades of forest clearance have decimated the country’s biodiversity. Iconic animals such as tigers and elephants have long since been eradicated from most of the country’s forests.

National-level protection is weak and it now seems only small independent groups of conservationists are the last line of defense trying to protect what is left of Cambodia’s once great forests.

Sean Gallagher travelled to Cambodia in early 2020 to document the effects of deforestation and forest fires on the people and landscapes of the country.

Leave a Reply