Cardamom Mountains

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Cardamom Mountains
Koh Kong logging.JPG
Aerial view of an illegal logging camp in the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong Province
Highest point
PeakPhnom Aural
Elevation1,813 m (5,948 ft)
Coordinates12°00′N 103°15′E / 12.000°N 103.250°E / 12.000; 103.250Coordinates: 12°00′N 103°15′E / 12.000°N 103.250°E / 12.000; 103.250
Length300 km (190 mi) NW/SE
Width70 km (43 mi) NE/SW
Cardamom Mountains is located in Cambodia
Cardamom Mountains
Cardamom Mountains
Krâvanh Mountains in Cambodia
Cardamom Mountains is located in Thailand
Cardamom Mountains
Cardamom Mountains
Cardamom Mountains (Thailand)
CountryCambodia and Thailand
Age of rockCambrian[1]
Type of rockMetaconglomerate

The Krâvanh Mountains, literally the "Cardamom Mountains" (Khmer: ជួរភ្នំក្រវាញ, Chuor Phnom Krâvanh; Thai: ทิวเขาบรรทัด, Thio Khao Banthat, pronounced [tʰīw kʰǎw bān.tʰát]), is a mountain range in the south west of Cambodia and Eastern Thailand.

The silhouette of the Cardamom Mountains appears in the provincial seal of Trat Province in Thailand.[2]

Location and description[edit]

The mountain range extends along a southeast-northwest axis from Koh Kong Province on the Gulf of Thailand to the Veal Veang District in Pursat Province, and is extended to the southeast by the Dâmrei (Elephant) Mountains.[3] The northwestern end of the range in Chanthaburi Province, Thailand, appears also as the 'Soi Dao Mountains' (Khao Soi Dao) and as 'Chanthaburi Range' in some maps.

Dense tropical rainforest prevails on the wet western slopes which annually receive from 3,800 to 5,000 mm (150 to 200 in) of rainfall. By contrast, only 40 to 60 inches (1,000 to 1,500 mm) fall in places like Kirirom National Park on the wooded eastern slopes in the rain shadow facing the interior Cambodian plain. On the eastern slopes, cardamom and pepper are still grown commercially.


The highest elevation of the Cardamom Mountains is Phnom Aural in the northeast at 1,813 metres (5,948 ft). This is also Cambodia's highest peak. Phnom Samkos (1,717 m), Phnom Tumpor (1,516 m) and Phnom Kmoch (1,220 m) are other important summits.


The mountains contain many historic sites from the 15th- to 17th-century, containing 60 cm exotic ceramic jars and rough-hewn log coffins set out on remote, natural rock ledges, scattered around the mountains.[4][5][6] The jar burials are a unique feature of this region, and forms a previously unrecorded burial practice in Khmer cultural history. Local legends suggest the bones are the remains of Cambodian royalty.

Tep Sokha, P. Bion Griffin and D. Kyle Latinis recording ancient rock art at Kanam in 2015. Over 220 separate images were identified - mostly elephants, deer, wild cow/buffalo, humans riding elephants, and unidentifiable mammals.
Elephants with riders depicted on vertical walls and ceiling panels. Note some rides have possible tools and unique head gear or hairstyles. Upper images are unaltered. Lower images use decorrelation stretch software [DStretch; Jon Harman) to enhance subtle color differences. The results enhance details and reveal otherwise hidden paintings.

A unique rock art cave site known as Kanam depicts ancient elephants, elephant riders, deer and wild cow (or buffalo) in red ochre paint.[7] The site is located in the eastern part of the Cardamoms near Kravanh Township (Pursat Province). The Cardamoms are home to one of the largest protected wild elephant populations in Southeast Asia. The human riders may represent elephant capture and training activities - a major cultural tradition among various ethnic groups in the area until the 1970s. Traditions, experts, and elephant populations were decimated by the Khmer Rouge Regime.

The cave and paintings may have played important roles for rituals and magic used to placate ancestors and spirits; seek protection (elephant capture is very dangerous); bring good fortune; and transmit specialized knowledge (teaching/training).

Some of the paintings may be various species of wild cow or buffalo. It is difficult to distinguish the possible cow from the possible deer representations due to the simple silhouette style. However, cowhides are extremely important for lassoes, ropes, snares and riggings related to elephant capture. Local elephant masters claimed there was more ritual and magic associated with these highly critical items than all others related to elephant capture. Thus, wild cow or buffalo representation might be expected.

The large representation of deer may relate to the massive deerskin trade to Japan in the 15th - 17th centuries. Taiwan's deer populations had been almost annihilated due to insatiable demands for Samurai armor and Japanese accessories made of deerskin. Deerskin sourcing shifted to Cambodia and Thailand. As deer populations decreased, local hunters also may have resorted to more investment in magic and ritual to seek assistance from ancestors and spirits to increase luck. The paintings are thought to date from the late Angkorian period through the post-Angkor period (contemporaneous with the jar burials, perhaps created and used by the same ethnic groups). The site may date to as early as the Funan period (1st - 6th centuries) when the practice of capturing, training, and trading live elephants was first historically noted (a mission was sent to China in 357 AD with trained elephants as part of the tributary gifts to Emperor Mu of Jin). Whether or not elephant capture, training, and use for labor, prestige and warfare existed prior to the Funan period is unknown. It is possible that the practice, technology and knowledge was obtained through South Asian influence in the early first millennium AD.

Left: animal scene panels enhanced with DStretch software. Note the random placement of mammals. Right: original and DStretch enhanced images of humans holding objects. Some have interpreted this to represent ritual scenes, perhaps dancing with musical instruments.

These paintings help with understanding the ecological history. Local ethnic groups were able to maintain, sustain and promote elephant populations through a somewhat symbiotic relation until the 20th century. Deer and wild cow/buffalo, however, may have been hunted to near extinction by the 15th - 17th centuries. Eld's deer, muntjac, sambar, gaur, kouprey and banteng were probably far more prevalent in the past.

This largely inaccessible mountain range formed one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, driven out by Vietnamese forces during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. The Thai border to the west, acted as a conduit for Chinese support and, eventually, a sanctuary for fleeing Khmer fighters and refugees.[8] The inaccessibility of the hills has also helped to preserve the primeval forest and ecosystems of the area relative intact. In 2002, however, a transborder highway to Thailand was completed south of the Cardamoms, along the coast. The highway has fragmented habitats for large mammals such as elephants, big cats and monkeys. The highway has also opened up for agricultural slash-and-burn projects and opportunistic poaching for endangered animals, all degrading the natural value and the forests ecosystems.[9]

Tourism is relatively new to the Cardamom Mountains. In 2008, Wildlife Alliance launched a community-based ecotourism program in the village of Chi-Phat, marketed as the "gateway to the Cardamoms".[10] Tourist visitors to Chi-Phat continue to grow and the community is regarded as a model for community-based ecotourism, with approximately 3,000 annual visitors generating more than $US 150,000 for the local community.[11]

International conservation organizations working in the area includes Wildlife Alliance,[12] Conservation International,[13] and Fauna and Flora International.[14] In 2016, the southern slopes of the Cardamom Mountains were designated as a new national park; Southern Cardamom National Park.[9] It appears, however, that rampant illegal poaching is continuing nonetheless.[15]


These relatively isolated mountains now form an important tropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion, the Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests Ecoregion.[16] One of the largest and still mostly unexplored forests in southeast Asia, it is separated from other rainforests in the region by the large Khorat Plateau to the north. The Vietnamese Phú Quốc island off the coast of Cambodia has similar vegetation and is included in the ecoregion.[16]

Most of the region is covered in evergreen rain forest with a different type of thick evergreens above 700m and areas of dwarf conifer Dacrydium elatum forest on the southern slopes of the Elephant Mountains and an area of Tenasserim pine dominated forest on the Kirirom plateau. Hopea pierrei, an endangered canopy tree rare elsewhere, is relatively abundant in the Cardamom Mountains. Other angiosperm tree species are Anisoptera costata, Anisoptera glabra, Dipterocarpus costatus, Hopea odorata, Shorea hypochra, Caryota urens and Oncosperma tigillarium.[17] Other conifers include Pinus kesiya, Dacrycarpus imbricatus, Podocarpus neriifolius, P. pilgeri and Nageia wallichiana.[18] The southernmost on Earth known natural habitats of genus Betula (species Betula alnoides) are situated in the northern part of Cardamom Mountains.[19]


The moist climate and undisturbed nature of the rocky mountainsides appears to have allowed a rich variety of wildlife to thrive, although the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains are poorly researched and the wildlife that is assumed to be here remains to be catalogued. They are thought to be home to over 100 mammals such as the large Indian civet and banteng cattle, and most importantly the mountains are thought to shelter at least 62 globally threatened animal species and 17 globally threatened trees, many of them endemic to Cambodia.[20] Among the animals are fourteen endangered and threatened mammal species, including the largest population of Asian elephant in Cambodia and possibly the whole of Indochina although this still needs to be proved. Other mammals, many of which are threatened, include Indochinese tiger, clouded leopard (Pardofelis nebulosa), dhole (a wild dog) (Cuon alpinus), gaur (Bos gaurus), banteng (Bos javanicus), the disputed kting voar (Pseudonovibos spiralis), Malayan sun bear, pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus), Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), Sunda pangolin and the Tenasserim white-bellied rat.[21] There are at least 34 species of amphibians, three of them described as new species to science from here.[22]

The rivers are home to both Irrawaddy and humpback dolphins and are home to some of the last populations on Earth of the very rare Siamese crocodiles and the only nearly extinct northern river terrapin, or royal turtle remaining in Cambodia. While the forests are habitat for more than 450 bird species, half of Cambodia's total of which four, the chestnut-headed partridge, Lewis's silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera lewisi), the green peafowl (Pavo muticus) and the Siamese partridge (Arborophila diversa) are endemic to these mountains. A reptile and amphibian survey led in June 2007 by Dr Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, US and the conservation organisation Fauna and Flora International uncovered new species, such as a new Cnemaspis gecko, C. neangthyi.[20][23]

Protected areas[edit]

The human population of the Cardamom Mountain Range although very small is extremely poor. Threats to the biological diversity of the region include habitat loss due to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and forest fires caused by slash-and-burn agriculture. While the Cambodian forests in the Cardamom Mountains are fairly intact,[citation needed] the section in Thailand has been badly affected.

About a third of the ecoregion has been designated as protected areas,[24] but the level of active protection in all parks in the mountains has been criticised.[by whom?][further explanation needed][citation needed]

Protections in the Cardamom Mountains comprise the following:



The Cardamom Mountains are an emerging tourist destination.

The village of Chi Phat runs a Community-Based Eco-Tourism project with the support of conservation NGO, Wildlife Alliance. Previously a logging and hunting community, villagers now make sustainable income through homestays, multiple day guided treks to natural and cultural sites, mountain bike, boat and bird watching tours.[citation needed]

The Wildlife Release Station in Koh Kong Province is a release site for animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia by the NGO Wildlife Alliance. Binturong, porcupine, pangolins, civets, macaques and an array of birds are among the many species that have been released on site. The station was opened to tourists in December 2013, offering guests an insight into the workings of a wildlife rehabilitation and release site while staying in jungle chalets and enjoying Cambodian hospitality. Activities offered can include feeding resident wildlife, jungle hiking, radio tracking and setting camera traps to monitor released wildlife.[citation needed]

Wild Animal Rescue (WAR Adventures Cambodia) also organize a wide range of deep jungle activities from the family trekking to the hardcore RAID adventure, jungle orientation and survival training course, even animals and human tracking course, all in the region of Sre Ambel in the South-west of the Cardamom mountains.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cambodia Ecological Zonation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
  2. ^ Seals of The Provinces of Thailand
  3. ^ Cardamom and Elephant Mountains (Cambodia) Archived 2012-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Beavan, Nancy; Halcrow, Sian; McFaden, Bruce; Hamilton, Derek; Buckley, Brendan; Tep, Sokha; Shewan, Louise; Ouk, Sokha; Fallon, Stewart (2012). "Radiocarbon Dates from Jar and Coffin Burials of the Cardamom Mountains Reveal a Unique Mortuary Ritual in Cambodia's Late- to Post-Angkor Period (15th–17th Centuries AD)". Radiocarbon. 54 (1): 1–22. doi:10.2458/azu_js_rc.v54i1.15828. ISSN 1945-5755.
  5. ^ Beavan, Nancy; Hamilton, Derek; Tep, Sokha; Sayle, Kerry (2015/ed). "Radiocarbon Dates from the Highland Jar and Coffin Burial Site of Phnom Khnang Peung, Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia". Radiocarbon. 57 (1): 15–31. doi:10.2458/azu_rc.57.18194. ISSN 1945-5755. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ "ANU - Ceramic Jars". Archived from the original on 2012-03-17. Retrieved 2011-11-14.
  7. ^ Latinis, D. Kyle; Griffin, P. Bion; Tep, Sokha (May 2016). "The Kanam Rock Painting Site, Cambodia: Current Assessments". NSC Archaeological Report Series. #2: 1–91.
  8. ^ Fiona Terry (12 April 2013). Condemned to Repeat?: The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. Cornell University Press. pp. 118–. ISBN 0-8014-6863-9.
  9. ^ a b "Southern Cardamom Forest Registered as a National Park!". Wildlife Alliance. 18 May 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  10. ^ Lonely Planet Chi Phat
  11. ^ Reimer, J. K., & Walter, P. (2013). How do you know it when you see it? Community-based ecotourism in the Cardamom Mountains of southwestern Cambodia. Tourism Management, 34, 122-132.
  12. ^ "Wildlife Alliance Forest Protection Program". Archived from the original on 2013-11-12. Retrieved 2013-11-25.
  13. ^ Conservation International Cambodia Program
  14. ^ Fauna & Flora International Cardamoms Mountain Program
  15. ^ "Over 100,000 snares found in Cardamom National Park". The Phnom Penh Post. 25 May 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  17. ^ "World Wildlife Fund - Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests". Archived from the original on 2015-05-17. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
  18. ^ "Conifers of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam". Science/Genetics & Conservation/Conifer Conservation. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. 2010. Archived from the original on 29 November 2007. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  19. ^ Forest Vegetation of Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. A.N. Kuznetsov, S.P. Kuznetsova. BULLETIN OF MOSCOW SOCIETY OF NATURALISTS. BIOLOGICAL SERIES. 2012. Vol. 117, part 5, 2012 September – October, p. 39–50 (in Russian)
  20. ^ a b BBC News, "New cryptic gecko species is discovered in Cambodia ", 24 March 2010: accessed 24 March 2010.
  21. ^ CeroPath - Niviventer tenaster Thomas, 1916
  22. ^ Ohler, A.; S. R. Swan; J. C. Daltry (2002). "A recent survey of the amphibian fauna of the Cardamom Mountains, Southwest Cambodia with descriptions of three new species" (PDF). Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. 50: 465–481.
  23. ^ Grismer, J. L.; Grismer, L. L.; Chav, T. (2010). "New Species of Cnemaspis Strauch 1887 (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from Southwestern Cambodia". Journal of Herpetology. 44: 28. doi:10.1670/08-211.1.
  24. ^ Protected areas in Cambodia
  25. ^ Khao Soi Dao Wildlife Sanctuary

External links[edit]