For the first time ever in Virachey National Park, conservation NGO HabitatID has captured photos of the stumped-tail macaque. “The local villagers said they were there, but the NGOs had never photographed them, so there was no official record of them living in Virachey,” said Greg McCann, field director at HabitatID.
Through their camera-trapping project, the NGO aims to use photos of rare animals to convince larger organisations to provide more resources – such as rangers – for neglected National Parks, starting with Virachey.
Located in Ratanakkiri in the far northeast, the 333,000 hectare national park became a recognised park in 1993 and received support from a number of NGOs until 2008, when the World Bank withdrew funding for its conservation and ecotourism programs.
Nowadays McCann refers to Virachey as a “paper park” – in reality there aren’t enough resources in place to protect it from loggers and poachers.
“The idea behind the camera trap project is that we put camera traps where NGOs or governments don’t want to or can’t afford to, and then we will present the photographs to them and hopefully inspire them to come in and do something with the place,” said McCann, who was surprised by the amount of wildlife they had captured since the cameras were installed in January.
So far, they have photographs of a dhole, a wild Asiatic dog listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered, along with clouded leopards, gaur, pig-tailed macaques, sun bears and black bears, which are all listed as vulnerable, as well as civets, hog badgers, serow and lots of deer and pigs, many of which are on the verge of being threatened.
“We’ve got basically everything except elephants and the large common leopard,” McCann said. “I’m pretty sure we will get elephants and leopards; we’ve found elephant footprints, so we know they are there, but are yet to get them on camera.”
According to a survey conducted in 2007 by Conservation International, there is still little known about many areas within Virachey. “Due to its size, accessibility and lack of resources, many areas are not patrolled,” Stephane de Greef, a former technical advisor to the national park in 2005 and researcher who took part in the survey, said via email.
He lists poaching and illegal logging as some of the problems within Virachey.
McCann suggested poaching may have reduced slightly as illegal logging of rosewood increased, but De Greef said this was unlikely.
McCann said they had found a surprising number of clouded leopards but refused to provide photos of them for publication, fearing they would encourage poaching. “Nearly all our cameras have clouded leopards on them, which has led us to the conclusion that maybe it is the top predator in the park now, where historically that should be the tiger,” McCann said.
The cameras also showed that “prey bait” such as deer are flourishing in the new environment without the larger predators such as tigers and leopards.
Some of the deer are not shy and would walk back and forth in front of the motion sensor camera, McCann said.
Despite the abundance of wildlife appearing on their cameras, McCann said it was unlikely it would prompt any NGO to invest in the park.
“I really think the only thing that would make them come in [to Virachey] and do something would be the rhino,” he said.
Nick Marx, Wildlife Alliance rescue director, doubts this would happen. “I think they are too late to protect rhinos and tigers in this country,” he said.
Locals say there are rhinos near the Laos border, but the last rhino photographed was in the 1930s and it has been 10 years since any local villagers have reported spotting one.
“It’s anecdotal evidence; you can tell it to the scientists and they won’t think much of it,” said McCann. “But the local people are the ones who spend the most time in the forest.”
HabitatID will patrol the park in January next year when they check and set up the next round of cameras. They will also be moving the cameras to more remote parts of Virachey, such as the Yak Yuek Grasslands and up on the Laos border. In some instances, they will be the first foreigners to enter those parts of the forest.
“There are two groups of animals that I’m kind of hoping to get,” said McCann. “I think there is a reasonable chance we will get big cats, leopards, open cats, fishing cats, and an outside chance we get the rhino, tiger, kouprey and tek tek.”