For hundreds of years, the misty, mysterious jungles of Cambodia have enticed intrepid adventurers. In the 19th century, French explorer Henri Mouhot was the first European to stumble upon the overgrown ruins of ancient Angkor. The forested plateau of Phnom Kulen, once a Khmer Rouge stronghold, is now known to harbor “lost” temple-cities too. And in the country’s southwest, the wild Cardamom Mountains have in recent times divulged secrets of
their own, including hoards of burial jars belonging to some long forgotten tribe and a growing number of new species, among them a previously unrecorded legless amphibian and a carnivorous plant dubbed Nepenthes holdenii.
When I moved to Cambodia in 2012 for a two-year stint at the Phnom Penh Post, I had this kind of exotic jungle imagery seared into my mind. I’d read about the Cardamom range and how it encompasses the single largest tract of uninterrupted rain forest left in Southeast Asia. I also learned that this biodiversity hot spot is home to significant populations of rare wildlife, including a staggering 70 species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. I imagined all sorts of Indiana Jones–style adventures that my new job might entail: research trips with renowned archaeologists; treks to tribal villages; perhaps even spotting an Indochinese tiger.