Conservation news from Cambodia

This video from Cambodia says about itself:

3 December 2015

BirdLife International conducts numerous conservation projects in Siem Pang to protect the habitat of ibis, vulture and many other wild animals. This is a short montage of footage from our work with BirdLife in Siem Pang.

By Shaun Hurrell, 20 May 2016:

Huge protected forest jigsaw completed

The picture on the jigsaw box is of an extensive swathe of unified nature, beyond borders, of thriving wildlife and local communities across 700,000 hectares in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, together making one of the largest protected landscapes in South-East Asia.

For the last couple of years, one of the most valuable jigsaw pieces in the world was missing – a large deciduous forest called Western Siem Pang in northern Cambodia.

Now it has finally been slotted into place. Welcome to the new Prey Siem Pang Lech Wildlife Sanctuary.

In this newly protected forest you will find Endangered Eld’s Deer roaming and not one – but five – Critically Endangered bird species breeding, including 50% of the global population of White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni and 10% of the world’s Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea. You will also find a dedicated BirdLife team, skilfully covering huge distances every day on urban motorbikes unsuitable for the sandy terrain, diligently monitoring crucial forest pool habitats, or working with an enforcement team to report illegal logging and confiscate wood and wildlife. Some rangers, like Mem Mai, are ex-hunters and have an ear so well-trained that they can monitor bird song over the noise of the motorbike engine.

Ask Project Officer Eang Samnang, and he will tell you the exact location of all three Critically Endangered vulture species’ nests. Or that the vulture ‘restaurant’ they created to supplement vulture feeding (due to a decline in large wild mammals) now accounts for 73% of all of Cambodia’s vultures.

In the local villages, you will find Dina Yam, Community Outreach Officer, showing educational films to prevent wildlife poisonings, or helping people build up herds of cattle and buffalo. Lately, the Cambodia team and Forestry Administration had an economic land concession cancelled to prevent the clearance of the forest for plantations and came one step closer to ensuring protected status.

Suffice to say that the BirdLife Cambodia Programme has been working hard for years to protect Western Siem Pang. Celebrations in 2014 saw the designation of the northern half being declared a Protected Forest. But the puzzle was not completed until this week when the Prey Siem Pang Lech Wildlife Sanctuary was created covering over 65,000 hectares in the remaining southern half of the forest.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen signed the sub-decree establishing Prey Siem Pang Lech Wildlife Sanctuary on 9th May 2016, with a boundary that follows almost exactly what BirdLife proposed. Now this boundary completes the regional protected area puzzle combining forest in southern Laos, northern Cambodia and western Vietnam.

This latest sub-decree also sees the upgrade of the northern half of Western Siem Pang forest from its Protected Forest status, bringing the total area designated as Wildlife Sanctuary to 132,321 hectares.

“We delight with this decision and BirdLife’s Cambodia team will continue support Ministry of Environment to manage this wildlife sanctuary”, said Bou Vorsak, BirdLife Cambodia Programme Manager.

“This success comes from working in close collaboration with our government partners, the Forestry Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the General Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection of the Ministry of Environment, and thanks to unwavering support from the MacArthur Foundation over the many years.”

“My department is proud to have initiated this protected area designation processs,” said Dr Keo Omaliss, Director of Department Wildlife and Biodiversity of Forestry Administration. “As someone who studied the Giant Ibis as part of my PhD research, I am pleased this population of this Critically Endangered species is now more secure. The Royal Government of Cambodia is committed to establishing more Protected Forest in the near future.” …

The preservation of wild places is often pitched as a battle between the interests of wildlife and the interests of people. It’s not.

It was only by understanding the value of Western Siem Pang forest for threatened birds and for local people that its future is now secure – for both.

Western Siem Pang illustrates this connection very simply. Scattered under the broad leaves of the forest, seasonal pools called trapaengs are central to the lives of people as well as wildlife. In the dry season these trapaengs all but dry up (especially if buffalo aren’t around to wallow) – but they are sources of water, frogs and fish for humans and birds alike, and also provide a wealth of non-timber forest products. Recognising this common interest, BirdLife works with local people and over a decade has established a network of Local Conservation Groups who agreed a Trapaeng Management Protocol to protect the essential pools, alongside the Ibises, Deer and other threatened wildlife like Gaur, Banteng, Clouded Leopard and Red-shanked Douc Langur.

All this shows that of course it is never as simple as slotting a jigsaw piece into place, but the hard work behind BirdLife’s Cambodia Programme certainly makes it look that way.

“The many years of perseverance have paid off at last,” said Jonathan Eames, BirdLife Cambodia.

To find out how this story evolves, and if the Giant & White-shouldered Ibis, Slender-billed, Red-headed & White-rumped Vulture populations bounce back, subscribe to our newsletter below.

This video says about itself:

Buffalo Friend, Documentary film of BirdLife International Cambodian Programme

3 October 2014

Western Siem Pang of Stung Treng province is in the North-Eastern plains of Cambodia. This site supports a number of the rare and critically endangered wildlife species of South-East Asia. At well over 700,000 hectares this landscape is one of largest protected rugged landscapes in the region.

Two critically endangered ibis species are also present at this site. The world’s largest remaining White shouldered Ibis population is found here and also the Giant Ibis, the national bird symbol of Cambodia.

Both local communities and wildlife are heavily dependent of these forests to support their existence.

Cambodian bird paradise gets protection

This video is called The birds in Tonle Sap, Cambodia.

From BirdLife:

Extraordinary waterbird colony – Prek Toal – recognised as Ramsar Site

By Vorsak Bou, Wed, 02/12/2015 – 13:34

South-East Asia’s largest waterbird colony, the 21,342 hectares Prek Toal (Ramsar Site no. 2245 ) has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance (also known as a ‘Ramsar Site’), by the Royal Government of Cambodia and recognised by the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The declaration of Cambodia’s fourth Ramsar Site was made by Prime Ministerial Sub-Decree.

Prek Toal’s Status as South-East Asia’s largest waterbird colony was under threat due to overharvesting of the waterbirds until the Ministry of Environment in close cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society started working back in 1999 to conserve the colony. The colony was a fraction of its current size, due to decades of egg and chick collection. Former egg collectors were employed as nest guardians, stationed on tree-top platforms throughout the breeding season to protect and monitor the breeding birds. The protection continues to this day, and Prek Toal now supports more than 50,000 breeding waterbirds of at least ten globally threatened species. These include Southeast Asia’s only breeding Spot-billed Pelicans, nearly half of the world’s Greater Adjutants and many thousands of storks and darters. It is for this reason that Prek Toal has received recognition as a Ramsar Site. Prek Toal attracts thousands of tourists annually and supports the most productive fishery in the Tonle Sap Lake.

“Cambodia should be proud that Prek Toal has been declared as a wetland of international importance. It recognises the years of hard work between government, local communities and NGOs, and opens the door to many more years of this exciting collaboration that has restored Prek Toal to its place as a natural wonder of Cambodia” said Dr. Ross Sinclair, WCS Cambodia Director.

“We congratulate the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia for putting forward Prek Toal as a new Ramsar Site”, said Dr. Lew Young, Senior Regional Advisor for Asia-Oceania (Ramsar Secretariat), “and we look forward to supporting the Government of Cambodia to designate more Ramsar Sites in future, and to ensure their sustainable management for the benefit of the local people and the environment.”

30% of Cambodia is covered by wetlands and the majority of them have been identified as globally important, owing to the populations of threatened species that they support. In 1999 Cambodia became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. However, up until now only three Ramsar Sites had been designated. They are:

•       Boeng Chhmar and Associated River System and Floodplain (Ramsar Site no. 997);

•       Koh Kapik and Associated Islets (Site no. 998), and;

•       Middle Stretches of Mekong River North of Stoeng Treng (Site no. 999).

“Recognising Prek Toal as a Ramsar Site not only draws attention to the international importance of this wetland but it will be a bridge for Cambodia to nominate more wetlands as Ramsar Sites in the future”, said H.E. Say Samal, Minister of Environment of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

BirdLife International and the Department of Freshwater Wetlands Conservation, Ministry of Environment have been working together towards designating more wetlands as Ramsar Sites in Cambodia since 2008. Prek Toal is the first new Ramsar Site declared in Cambodia in the last sixteen years. “In addition to its biodiversity value, Prek Toal Important Bird and Biodiversity Area delivers ecosystem services such as fish which support the livelihoods of the surrounding floating villages, we are delighted at this result” said Mr. Bou Vorsak, BirdLife Cambodia’s Programme Manager. “Ramsar status for this wetland will attract international interest in this fantastic site.”

Financial support was provided by the Darwin Initiative, a small grant of Japanese Ministry of the Environment, the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund, a Ramsar Small Grant, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Each Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention designates at least one wetland for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance, and these sites are selected by the Party based on the site’s international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology. Worldwide, there are 2,240 Ramsar Sites, making this the largest network of wetland managed for conservation.

See BirdLife Data Zone Prek Toal Factsheet.

Endangered Mekong giant catfish caught, released in Cambodia

This video says about itself:

20 July 2009

Biologist Zeb Hogan travels the mighty Mekong River in search of the increasingly elusive Giant Catfish.


A Monster Fish Makes a Rare Appearance in Cambodia

Fishers catch and release a critically endangered Mekong giant catfish

Nov 14, 2015

by Taylor Hill

Fishers near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, brought a monster to the surface this past week—catching and releasing a rarely seen Mekong giant catfish nearly seven feet long.

It was the first reported catch this year of the freshwater monster, known as the “royal fish” because of its size.

“This is really extraordinary,” Zeb Hogan, a University of Nevada, Reno, biologist who has studied the species for almost 20 years, said in a statement. “It confirms that this incredibly rare and critically endangered freshwater species still occurs in Cambodia and it is still making its annual spawning migration out of the Tonle Sap Lake and into the Mekong River.”

Hogan was on-site when the catch was made. “At just under seven feet in length, the catfish was larger than any catfish that has been caught in the U.S. in the last 100 years,” he said. “What was really incredible is that I happened to be visiting at the time of the catch. It’s a one-in-a-million opportunity.”

Hogan and a team of officials from the Cambodian Department of Fisheries tagged the fish to track its movement and then guided it to the middle of the river for release.

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Hogan said he swam down with the fish some 10 feet deep, monitoring its condition along the way.

“Swimming with the fish was incredible as always,” said Hogan, who has swum with dozens of huge fish as part of his research. “This particular fish was in better shape, not as injured than most, so that makes me optimistic it will survive.”

Mekong catfish were once caught by the thousands in the lower Mekong, but scientists estimate the total population of the species has decreased by around 90 percent in the last decade and could be down to a few 100 individuals.

“The survival of every fish makes a difference; survival of migrating adults is especially important,” Hogan said. “With ongoing changes happening on the Mekong River that may cause the extinction of the giant catfish, measures to study and protect these fish are more important than ever.”

Endangered fishing cat discovery in Cambodia

This video says about itself:

2 September 2015

Pictures of the Endangered fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) – the first in Cambodia for more than a decade – provide welcome evidence that these elusive felines still survive in some parts of the country.

From Wildlife Extra:

Fishing cat found in coastal Cambodia for first time in 12 years

Camera traps have captured footage and images of the endangered fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) in Cambodia for the first time since 2003.

Researchers from the CBC, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, were thrilled by the findings which have allayed grave fears about the status of these animals in Cambodia.

FFI project leader, Ms Ret Thaung said that the fishing cat’s preference for wetland habitat had led to severe population declines throughout much of its Asian range.

Asian wetland habitats are rapidly disappearing or being modified by human activity, so fishing cat numbers have declined dramatically over the last decade and the remaining population is thought to be small,” she said.

“Fishing cats are believed to be extinct in Vietnam, while there are no confirmed records in Lao PDR and only scarce information about the species in Thailand and Cambodia.

“It is clear that urgent steps are needed to protect these cats from snaring and trapping and to conserve their wetland habitats – but to do this effectively we needed to get a better idea of where they live.”

The team discovered fishing cats at two sites in south-west Cambodia: Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary (Koh Kong Province) and Ream National Park (Sihanoukville Province).

“This is a remarkable discovery as fishing cats are very vulnerable to human persecution,” Ms Thaung said. “We are especially pleased to see both a male and female cat from Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary. When working with Endangered species, every animal is important and the excitement of such a discovery is overwhelming.”

As both of these sites are protected areas, the resident fishing cats should be afforded some protection.

Alongside the fishing cats, the cameras also recorded a variety of other threatened species including the Critically Endangered Sunda pangolin, the Endangered hog deer, and the Vulnerable smooth-coated otter, large-spotted civet and sambar deer.

Saving Asian vultures from extinction

This video says about itself:

Yula Kapetanakos: Asian Vulture Study

19 July 2012

Despite their grisly lifestyle, vultures play an important role in nature and are even important for protecting human health—but in southeast Asia several species are facing extinction from exposure to a drug used to treat livestock. Cornell graduate student Yula Kapetanakos tells us about her doctoral research on White-rumped Vultures in Cambodia.

She extracts genetic samples from dropped feathers and uses them to determine how many vultures remain and how closely related they are. Since the birds naturally shed these feathers, her work doesn’t affect the birds at all; and since she is able to accurately identify individuals through their genetic fingerprints, her counts have revealed population levels that exceed those estimated with previous techniques—good news for an imperiled species.

From BirdLife:

Major breakthrough in fight to save Asian vultures from extinction

By Martin Fowlie, Fri, 28/08/2015 – 09:32

A major step for the future of vultures in Asia has been announced by the Indian Ministry of Health. A ban of multi-dose vials of human formulations of diclofenac, which is responsible for the death of tens of millions of Asia’s vultures, has come into force with immediate effect.

The painkiller was banned from veterinary use in India in 2006 because of its lethal effects on vultures that feed on the carcasses of treated cattle and buffaloes, but human formulations of the drug have been illegally used to treat animals since then. The ban sees diclofenac production now restricted to human formulations in a single 3ml dose.

Chris Bowden, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and SAVE vulture programme manager said, “Despite diclofenac being illegal for veterinary use since 2006, human formulations have been made readily available in large vials by irresponsible drug companies, making it cheap and easy to use illegally to treat cattle and buffalo. This ban means that the large vials can no longer be manufactured and sold, making it more difficult to use illegally for animals and thereby removing it from the primary source of food for Asia’s vultures.  This is a huge step closer to bringing vultures back from the brink of extinction.”

Veterinary diclofenac caused an unprecedented decline in the three species South Asia’s Gyps vulture populations – White-rumped, the long-billed and the slender-billed vulture. Oriental white-backed vultures declined by more than 99.9% between 1992 and 2007, with the loss of tens of millions of individuals.

After years of campaigning by conservationists, the governments of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan banned veterinary formulations of diclofenac between 2006 and 2010. Recently, experts have recorded a slowing of Gyps vulture declines as a result of the bans. However, human formulations of diclofenac are still widely available and illegally used to treat livestock, the carcasses of which are the main food source for vultures in South Asia.

The RSPB is a member of SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), which is a consortium of international organisations created to oversee and co-ordinate conservation, campaigning and fundraising activities to help the plight of South Asia’s vultures.  Since it was created, SAVE has requested pharmaceutical companies to cease production of the large vials of human formulations of diclofenac, which, at 30ml, are ten times the size of the dose required to treat a human (i.e., 3ml).  Only three companies voluntarily ceased manufacture ahead of this regulation, while more than 70 in India ignored the requests. Health professionals do not think that the banning of large vials poses any significant threat for the legitimate use of diclofenac in treating humans.

Vibhu Prakash, a scientist from the Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife in India) said, “Probably the most important step in vulture conservation since diclofenac’s ban for veterinary use in 2006, this latest announcement shows how much progress has been made. But there is still a job to do to make sure that safe alternative drugs are used.  Unfortunately, many alternatives, like ketoprofen, are not vulture-safe and more remain untested. In fact, there is only one vulture-safe alternative – meloxicam.”

Meloxicam is becoming more widely used now that the cost to manufacture it has been reduced by lifting its patent in South Asia.  However, other drugs known to be toxic or with unknown effects remain legal and are still being used.

Closer to home, an Italian company was, incredibly, given the green light to produce diclofenac for the Italian and Spanish veterinary markets, eight years after India’s first ban on the drug. Vultures inhabit both countries and feed on livestock carcasses, some of which will be treated with diclofenac. Vulture conservationists fear that this will cause declines in Europe’s vultures similar to that seen in South Asia. However, these fears have not been taken seriously by the European Medicines Agency who did not advise a European Union-wide ban on diclofenac.

Toby Galligan, RSPB Vulture Research scientist, said: “Again the government of India has made a strong decision to protect its vultures. Something that Europe has failed to do. It is truly shameful.”

SAVE is working to stop veterinary use of diclofenac by advocating vulture conservation to governments and raising awareness of alternative drugs that are just as effective in treating cattle to veterinarians and livestock owners.  While these issues are being tackled in situ, SAVE has established captive breeding populations of vultures at centres in India, Nepal and Pakistan. The birds will be released to supplement surviving wild populations, but only when it is safe to do so.

See also here.

New legless amphibian discovery in Cambodia

This video says about itself:

Amazing Amphibians Vol.1, No.1: Caecilian – Ichthyophis kohtaoensis

This is a common caecilian found in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. It was almost 38cm big!!! I took this video in Khao Yai National Park in Dec. 2, 2010.

The species in the video is a relative of the species recently discovered in Cambodia.

From Fauna & Flora International:

New legless amphibian discovered in Cambodia

by Louisa McKerrow

14 January 2015

New discovery marks the second caecilian species ever to be found in the country

Scientists have discovered a new species of legless amphibian in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains

The new species, Ichthyophis cardamomensis, is a caecilian, an order of limbless amphibians often mistaken for snakes, with larger species known to grow to 1.5 metres in length. This discovery, at only 30 cm, is linked to the continuing ground-breaking work at the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) in Phnom Penh, a joint initiative of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).

Leading Cambodian FFI herpetologist Neang Thy has been researching amphibians and reptiles since 2003 and is very excited that the I. cardamomensis species has been officially confirmed. This discovery is one of three new species of unstriped Ichthyophis caecelians (the other two were found in Vietnam) introduced in the ‘New Ichthyophis species from Indochina’ paper published recently in the Organisms Diversity & Evolution scientific journal (published by the Society for Biological Systematics).

Between 2009 and 2011, Cambodian species samples were collected by Neang Thy and Dr Lee Grismer from the US La Sierra University with final confirmation from lead paper author, Dr Peter Geissler from the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, Germany.

Why caecilians are important to conservation

The I.cardamomensis species is only the second caecilian species ever discovered in Cambodia. The other is the striped Koa Tao Island caecilian, I. kohtaoensis, which is also found in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“These discoveries are important to demonstrate that much of Cambodia’s biodiversity remains unknown and unstudied by science, and many more areas need to be searched,” Thy said.

The forested Cardamom Mountains Range represents some of the largest remaining areas of habitat for more than 80 threatened species, including Asian elephant and gaur.

Thy said in recent years the Cardamom region had revealed its extensive reptile and amphibian diversity, including frogs, turtles, lizards and crocodiles.

“We are still learning about this area and the animals in it, since it was a region formerly held by the Khmer Rouge and the mountains were closed to researchers until the 1990s,” he said.

“The Cardamom region is under threat from logging, land concessions, and other habitat destruction, and the danger of any new species, including the new caecilian, is that they may be discovered one year and go extinct the next.”

Caecilians have a valuable role in the ecosystems of tropical and subtropical regions, including providing a food source for the red tailed pipe snake (Cylindrophis ruffus). Caecilians eat invertebrates, such as earthworms, ants and termites.

Speaking the science of caecilian

Caecilians are a difficult group to describe as they look so similar, and there are few caecilian experts, so comprehensive morphological and molecular (DNA) analyses is needed to recognise a new species.

Zoologist Dr Peter Geissler said caecilians of the genus Ichthyophis were some of the most poorly known amphibian taxa within Southeast Asia.

“Three distinct unstriped Ichthyophiid species – I. cardamomensis from western Cambodia, I.catlocensis from southern Vietnam, and I.chaloensis from central Vietnam are now described as new species, almost doubling the number of Ichthyophis species known from the Indochinese region, ” he said.

Caecilians are best described as snake or worm-like amphibians that lack limbs. They have the typical amphibian skin that clearly differs from snakes, and they have skull and bones which differs from worms.

To read the ‘New Ichthyophis species from Indochina’ paper in the Organisms Diversity & Evolution magazine click here.

Released gibbons have baby in Cambodia

This video says about itself:

Released Gibbons Have Baby

21 October 2014

We are very excited to announce that our released gibbons, Baray and Saranik, gave birth to their first baby earlier this month! At the end of last year, a pair of endangered pileated gibbons that were raised at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC), were successfully rehabilitated and reintroduced into the protected forest of Angkor Archaeological Park. Since their release, the gibbons have been closely monitored, and it has been quite remarkable how quickly they have adapted to their new life in the forest. They remain a closely bonded pair, are completely self-reliant and now the latest addition to their family is another sign that they have settled into their new home!

The reintroduction of gibbons and the birth of this baby gibbon in particular is an exciting and vital step towards the conservation of this endangered species! Learn more here.