Natural Wonders on the West Bank of the Mekong

Hand-painted sign showing various animals at a watering hole

West bank of the Mekong, Kratie Province, Cambodia

Soon after publishing Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie I took a tour to the West bank of the Mekong river. After living for two years on the East bank, where Kratie Town is situated, it was odd that I’d never been to the other side, at least the stretch opposite the town. This is in part due to Koh Trong island standing in the way and the need to drop down South or head North to one of the two main ferry crossings.

The tour we took was with Cambodian Pride Tours and it passed this intriguing sign which could make a new attraction in its own right. Although it is in quite an unusual format, the text in the bottom right suggests that the sign was produced in 2007. My friend Gordon, previously of WWF, offers the following translation of this wonderful Department of Environment creation, ‘All of us must work together to protect wild animals’. The province of Kratie, and Cambodia more widely, faces severe threats to many indigenous species, not least the famous Irrawaddy Freshwater Dolphin which Gordon’s work focused on. I asked about some of the animals depicted and received the following notes from him and his colleagues:

It appears the artist has little idea of what actually exists in Cambodian forests, and in some cases has copied pictures of animals that live elsewhere. The deer at the top of the picture could be a hog dear, a Cambodian species. There is no indication that lions ever occurred here. The wolf does not exist here, but this could depict a jackal or a dhole, types of wild dog found in Cambodia. The creature with a fish in its mouth is a mystery, perhaps some relation to the otter. The large deer could be a sambar, the small deer a muntjac, both of which occur here. The pig looks like a warthog, found in Africa. The crocodile is okay, but almost certainly extinct in this area. The rhino has been extinct here for decades and this one looks nothing like the rhino that once existed here. The bear looks like a North American black bear. The snake looks like the typical depiction of the snake in the Garden of Eden. The monkey could be one of several different species.

Despite these inaccuracies, there is no doubt that this is an outstanding creation and one that I’m sad I was unable to include in the book. Gordon agrees:

All in all you have to love the sign. The conservation message is great and the sign appeals to our collective imagination of the great menagerie of animals that exist in the world.

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