For the Wildlife Defenders

3 March is UN World Wildlife Day, dedicated to the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This year’s theme is “Listen to the Young Voices”- stay tuned for forthcoming news from community engagement workshops conducted as part of our first Project field trip- including from Cambodia’s only mobile environmental education unitcoming soon!

Cambodia is located within the of Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, which boosts high levels of fauna and flora endemism, but limited remaining natural habitat; ranked among the top 10 for irreplaceability and top five for threat by the IUCN.

We would therefore like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those committed to defending wildlife in Cambodia, particularly those on the ground working at the forefront of direct protection.

With rapidly rising temperatures, peak tourist season in Cambodia is drawing to a close. Over the last months, we’ve received a few alerts from concerned tourists who report seeing ‘wild cats’ kept in cages -which locals claimed were Fishing Cats- primarily at floating villages around the Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap. 

Keeping/exhibiting wild species is not uncommon in rural areas, especially those which receive tourists but is unlawful in Cambodia (see below)

Long-tailed Macaque chained at Mondulkiri Sanctuary, visited by Project staff in August 2016

Where possible, we recommend not supporting sites and/or individuals which keep wild species captive, (with the exception of wildlife rescue centres/sanctuaries such as Phnom Tamao, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) and the Elephant Valley Project).

See guidance below on what to do should you find yourself in this situation.

We extend our sincere thanks to all those who have sought out the Project to pass on such information- the Fishing Cat is under-studied in the country so such reports may enable us to form more accurate pictures of their range. And after all, it was first-hand sightings from locals which guided our placement of camera-traps in the 2015 CBC survey and enabled us to document the new population in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary!

All captive wildcats from these reports have since been identified as Leopard Cats, which look similar to Fishing Cats and are often mistaken for them. (Watch this space for our forthcoming blog ‘Fishing Cat or Leopard Cat?’)

Thanks to reports…

4 Leopard Cat kittens were rescued and are now in safe hands at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre:

1 kitten from a floating village on the Tonle Sap lake:

 

 

and 3 more from Kampong Speu province, facilitated in part by our own Community Officer, Sothearen Thi who raised the alarm with us and followed up by calling on just the people for the job (see below).

See this video about their progress:

The Suwanna Sunday Show: #4 Phnom Tamao… – Suwanna Gauntlett, Wildlife Alliance

The Suwanna Sunday Show: #4 Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center My morning at our baby nursery: tender moments with Lili , Lola , Tic Tic and Tom Tom, all rescued from the hands of traffickers by Wildlife Alliance. www.wildlifealliance.org #wildlifealliance #phnomtamao #wildlife #hope #animalfriends

They join Leopard Cats which were rescued as kittens and re-located to Phnom Tamao in 2016 & 2015:

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

This is one of two Leopard cat kittens that were rescued from the pet trade earlier in September of this year. It is not only illegal to have a Leopard cat as a pet in Cambodia, but they also become a little “wild” as they grow up!

The right side of the Law

Under Cambodian law, Catching, trapping, poaching, poisoning, collecting eggs, and offsprings of wildlife”, is strictly prohibited and punishable by fines of up to $250,000 (Protected Area Law 2008 Article 58 (see also Articles 43, 59, 60, 61).

Who you gonna call?!

Following a sighting, inform Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) on:

+855 (0)12500094 or via their Facebook page as soon as possible with details of:

  • the exact location (NB. the name of the village rather than the point of departure if possible);
  • date;
  • description of the animal (preferably with photos to enable identification)

The WRRT exist to detect wildlife crime and take action, including confiscating and re-locating wildlife to  Phnom Tamao for rehabilitation and possible re-introduction into the wild from dedicated release stations, including one in the Cardamoms near Koh Kong.

See the heartwarming release of bonded pairs of Endangered Pileated Gibbons here.

Only in a handful of cases where animals have sustained serious injury or sufficiently protected area is lacking do animals remain at Phnom Tamao where they receive the best possible care. For a video overview of the Center see here.

Should I stay or should I go?

We are beginning work on a guide to ethical, ecological tourist sites and attractions around Cambodia to better inform decision making, but in the meantime the South China Morning Post listing, “Six of the best wildlife-spotting locations in South and Southeast Asia“, in which Cambodia features twice, is a good place to start. NB. For visits to the Prek Toal Bird Reserve, we recommend visiting with the Sam Veasna Center, see here for more.

How can I help?

When it comes to choosing your holiday destination wisely, see our above recommendations, with more coming soon in our forthcoming guide.

If you see or hear about Fishing Cat (‘Kla Trey’ in Khmer), please tell us after alerting the WRRT where appropriate. Such reports better inform our conservation work and help wildcats find their way back to the forest.

Male Fishing Cat captured by camera-trap in PKWS sniffing mark(s)

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Fishing Cat habitat part of new protected area network

Coastal mangroves are now contiguous with a protected area network of nearly 2.4 million ha

In May 2016, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) declared five new protected areas (PAs) covering over one million ha of forest and grassland. This brings the total coverage of the national protected area system to 34% of the Cambodian land surface (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016; Open Development Cambodia, 2016b).

Biodiversity status

Cambodia forms part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot which, with its high levels of fauna and flora endemism, and limited remaining natural habitat, ranks among the top 10 for irreplaceability and top five for threat, according to the IUCN. Alarmingly, 37% of the key biodiversity areas within the region are not under any formal protection.

Fishing Cat habitat within protected area network

Amongst the new PAs declared is Chuo Phnom Kravanh Khang Tbong National Park, which links the Central Cardamom Mountains National Park with Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, and connects the ridges of the Cardamom Mountains to the coastal mangroves at Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS), a possible Fishing Cat stronghold in SE Asia, and Botum-Sakor National Park.

Figure 1: Protected areas designated in Cambodia in 2016 (light green): 1) Chuo Phnom Kravanh Khang Tbong National Park; previously established protected areas (dark green): A) Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, B) Central Cardamom Mountains National Park, C) Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, D) Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, E) Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, F) Botum-Sakor National Park, G) Samlaut Multiple Use area (Map adapted from by Souter at el 2016).

 

The contiguous protected area network through and adjoining the Cardamom Mountains now covers nearly 2.4 million ha (Open Development Cambodia, 2016b,c), stretching as far north as Samlaut Multiple Use area in Cambodia; Namtok Khlong Kaew National Park and Khlong Kruewai Chalearm Phrakiat Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand.

More protection for the Fishing Cat

The declaration confers greater protection on the Fishing Cat as a species within the Cardamoms landscape, where there have been numerous records of the species: seized individuals from a village close to Botum Sakor National Park in 2008 (Royan 2009), two Fishing Cat kittens from Prey Nop district and from Koh Kong province in 2014, both courtesy of the Wildlife Alliance Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) (Gauntlett, pers comm), and a pelt discovered in Phnom Samkoh Wildlife Sanctuary (north Cardamom Mountains) by FFI staff in 2015. (Read more…)

Greater genetic diversity of Fishing Cat populations

Connectivity yields the possibility of greater genetic exchange between populations, enabling even transnational migration of Fishing Cats, thus strengthening the case for continued surveying of Fishing Cats across the landscape in order to characterise the metapopulation.

Other threatened species in the Cardamoms landscape

The expansion of the Cardamom Mountains protected landscape should reduce risk to 54 other globally threatened species (Killeen, 2012), especially Endangered Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) threatened with habitat fragmentation.

It may also benefit future tiger (Panthera tigris) populations; the National Park has been identified as a priority site for tiger restoration in Cambodia (DWB/GTI, 2016)- native Indochinese tigers were declared functionally extinct in the country in 2016 (Read more).

Future additional protections- UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve

The new declaration as Souter et al. (2016) point out, “strengthens justifications for designation of the area as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve [MAB].” Such reserves aim to integrate people and nature for sustainable development, involving multiple stakeholder agreement in designated zoning with various levels of protection, from maximum protection within core zones to transition zones where regulated activities may take place. Importantly, UNESCO MAB is a globally recognised figure, likely yielding increased investment in biodiversity research and conservation efforts, which is crucial within a protected area system which is severely underfunded (Souter et al. 2016).

In conclusion, we join Souter et al. (2016) and the conservation NGOs they represent in disseminating news of the RGC declaration, and hope that this and future decisions help to direct resources and technical support towards areas rich in biodiversity within a Hotspot that is one of the most biologically rich- and highly threatened- places in the world.

Read more about conservation plans in the new National Park

References

Central Intelligence Agency (2016) The World Factbook: Cambodia.[accessed 10 June 2016].

DWB/GTI (2016) Cambodian Tiger Action Plan. Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity, Forestry Administration, MAFF and Global Tiger Initiative. Phnom Penh, Cambodia [in Khmer].

IUCN: “On the verge of extinction: A look at endangered species in the Indo-Burma Hotspot”, 16 June 2015 http://www.iucn.org/content/verge-extinction-look-endangered-species-indo-burma-hotspot [accessed 26 July 2016].

Killeen, T.J. (2012) The Cardamom Conundrum: Reconciling Development and Conservation in the Kingdom of Cambodia. National University of Singapore Press, Singapore.

Souter, N., J., Simpson, V., Mould, A., Eames, J. C., Gray, T. N., Sinclair, R., Farrell, T., Jurgens, J., A., & Billingsley, A. (2016). Editorial—Will the recent changes in protected area management and the creation of five new protected areas improve biodiversity conservation in Cambodia? Cambodian Journal of Natural History, 1: 1-5 [accessed 25 July 2016].

Open Development Cambodia (2016b) Natural Protected Areas in Cambodia (1993-2016) [accessed 10 June 2016].

Open Development Cambodia (2016c) Greater Mekong Subregion Protected and Heritage Areas. [accessed 10 June 2016].

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