The sanctuary is home to an incredible variety of birds, many of which are increasingly rare. The spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) is a near-threatened species which currently has breeding colonies in just three areas of the world, Tonle Sap lake being one of them.
Rarer still is the greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius), an enormous stork that grows up to 1.5 metres tall, which is restricted to just two breeding populations in the world.
A good way to visit the bird sanctuary is to combine it with an overnight homestay in the nearby floating village of Prek Toal.
|Prek Toal floating village|
The area's unusual ecosystem arises from the yearly seasonal rains and a unique relationship between the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap, which increase the size of the lake over five times, flooding areas which only weeks before had been dry and dusty. This pulse of the rivers and lake is known locally as the "heartbeat of Cambodia", such is its importance for humans and wildlife alike.
|Traditional fishing methods remain important|
Any buildings in the area which do not float are built on high stilts, to keep them above water during the rainy season.
|A stilted building|
When your house floats, it's easy to move it!
Water hyacinth is an invasive species in Tonle Sap lake, and a major problem. One of the local community projects involves drying these invasive plants then using them to weave mats and other products which can then be sold.
|Weaving mats from water hyacinth|
The company we used, Osmose Day Tours (http://bit.ly/198LqiY) were an excellent choice, providing responsible and knowledgeable guides, as well as supporting various community initiative projects. Food is provided in a community-run restaurant, serving delicious and fresh local dishes.
It is unclear what will happen to the ebbs and flows of the Tonle Sap in the future. Further upstream the flow of the Mekong is being interrupted by the construction of dams, and it is uncertain what impact this will have on downstream ecosystems (http://bit.ly/1bPcMuC).
Now is the time to visit this unique ecosystem, and experience the heartbeat of Cambodia.
|Sunset over Prek Toal floating village|
For more images, please visit my Flickr page: http://bit.ly/1B0uwIQ