The drought is continuing to take its toll on Cambodia’s wildlife, with a troop of monkeys in Battambang driven from their habitat by a forest fire succumbing to dehydration and starvation.
The 30 black monkeys were found dead on Friday about 10 kilometres from the Sdeykrom Rohal Suong fishing community in Battambang’s Ek Phnom district.
Villagers believe a forest fire that has burned over 1,000 hectares since late March spread to the dry “flooded forest” nearby, driving out the animals and destroying their sources of food.
Meanwhile, ponds had dried up, leaving the monkeys without a source of water. Community representative Hor Som Ath said he believed many more died elsewhere.
“We saw snakes burned in the forest, not monkeys,” he said. “The monkeys died after the fire that damaged their habitat.”
The community last week started taking donations to buy food and water for any surviving monkeys, and had raised $300 as of yesterday from local and Australian donors.
The fire that drove the monkeys out, which had smouldered for months in neighbouring districts, has been difficult to fight and continued burning because of the lack of water, said police chief Chea Sery.
Kong Kim Sreng, head of terrestrial protected areas at the Ministry of Environment, said that while no numbers were available on total animal deaths from heat and dehydration, this year had been worse than any dry season in several decades.
“In previous years, we heard about some livestock dying, but this year we hear a lot about the wildlife dying,” Kim Sreng said.
In Kampong Thom’s Boeung Tonle Chhmar Wildlife Sancutary, 68 tonnes of fish have been found dead since April 23.
The Ministry of Environment and the Tonle Sap Authority issued a statement on Saturday saying that the water level in the Boeung Tonle Chhmar lake had dropped too far while also absorbing too much heat and losing too much oxygen to sustain the fish.
“In addition, Boeung Tonle Chhmar has had fire in five flooded areas, which destroyed 228 hectares”, which authorities were trying to control, the statement said.
The statement said morning glory was being planted and water pumped into the lake to raise oxygen levels.
Mass die-offs of fish have occurred in Boeung Tonle Chhmar in previous years for the same reasons. In June 2014, 89 tonnes of fish had died, and in May 2015, 178 tonnes of fish died.
However, this year was shaping up to be much worse, said Kim Sreng.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov