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Mondulkiri treasure trove of wildlife

Mondulkiri treasure trove of wildlife

BIOLOGISTS for Fauna and Flora International (FFI) have just completed an

extensive wildlife survey of western Mondulkiri Province and believe they have

found near-extinct species of wild water buffalo and deer.

Mondulkiri is

a globally significant area for conservation, said Barney Long, a field

biologist for FFI. "I don't know anywhere in the region that is comparable in

terms of species and their numbers."

Long was accompanied on the

expedition by Steve Swan, an FFI field biologist, and Kry Masphal from

Cambodia's Wildlife Protection Office. For 20 days the survey team, with their

local guides and elephants, trekked across western Koh Nhiek District to the Sre

Pok River, stopping off at points along the way the guides said had

concentrations of wildlife.

The biologist are almost certain a

population of Elds deer exists there, but Long cautions that this has yet to be

confirmed. "They are very rare. They just found a population of seven in Lao and

that was a big, big deal. So Elds deer are very important and the locals said

there are still many of them. They showed us lots of foot prints of Elds deer

which have huge antlers," said Long.

"From what we were told, some 50

Elds deer were shot last year for their trophies. Our guides saw Elds stags

twice. I saw two females of what I think are Elds deer.

"They are

extinct in Vietnam and thought to be extinct in Thailand. They are reported to

be in other areas of Cambodia, but in [Mondulkiri] we have pretty much confirmed

they are here.

"The local guides could describe Elds deer perfectly.

They will be a very, very important find if we can confirm them," he

said.

FFI's Cambodia Liaison, Hunter Weiler, said he has seen the freshly

removed horns of Elds deer in Preah Vihear Province. Also an aerial survey of

Mondulkiri in 1994 spotted Elds deer, so personally Weiler has no doubt that

several populations of the rare deer exist in Cambodia.

Long said the

Mondulkiri survey was conducted in dry deciduous forest with large areas of

grassland. "When we first arrived it was the dry season and everything was

brown. Half way through the survey the rains broke and young grass sprouted up

so over night everything became green and all the animals came out to graze on

the grass."

The team found copious tracks of gaur and banteng and tracks

of what they believe are wild water buffalo.

"Most buffalo populations

are now completely extinct, with only a few in India. Basically they are

slightly larger than domestic buffaloes, very aggressive and with horns that are

much, much larger - they have a two-meter span," said Long.

"They live

in herds and as normal buffalo, wallowing all the time. We found evidence of one

group of nine - according to locals - and another group of about 20.

The

team also found elephants in one area but didn't have time to survey them

properly. Local villages said the herd numbered about 20.

"The only

threat to the elephant comes from the local people taking the young to train as

domestic elephants. We only heard of nine domestic elephants in the area, which

is much less than we thought it would be, but it is still a tradition. The local

tribal people, the Phnong, use the elephants mainly for transportation," said

Long.

The survey found plenty of evidence of sambar and muntjak which,

said Long, are a good prey base for tigers and leopards.

"We found

footprints of two tigers as well as two leopards. So they are definitely there,

but under severe pressure from hunters who are after their skin and bones -

usually to order.

"Buyers come to Sen Monorom [Mondulkiri's capital] and

place their order and hunters go in and get them. But this is the kind of

hunting that should be quite easily stopped," he said.

Long said the team

identified three primate species including at least six groups of black-shanked

Duoc langur. "The langur are endemic to this region and are highly endangered.

They are hunted for food because they are tasty," he said.

The survey

also noted the presence 122 species of birds including the globally threatened

giant ibis, woolly-necked stalk, and the red-headed vulture.

But the

survey team found no evidence of the legendary kouprey. "We were using the best

guide in the area and he had never seen them," said Long.

"But we did get

reports of the koupru, which might be a cross between a kouprey, banteng, and

something else. I can't tell you what it is - just one of those animals that you

put down to local talk.

"A local hunter said they are very rare - he had

only ever seen three of them and killed only one. Maybe they are the result of

bantengs that mated with the wrong things. You never know," said

Long.

Long said the Mondulkiri habitat is completely intact. "The only

people who go in there are the hunters. They do burn off once a year but that is

for hunting, so new grass will grow up [to attract herds]. The elephants don't

like the burning and the tigers go up to the hills, but they eventually come

back down because they have loads of prey to eat."

Within mainland

Southeast Asia this area is extremely important, said Long. "Yok Don National

Park adjacent in Vietnam is one of that country's flagship parks and from what I

hear, it is nowhere as good as where we have just been. The amount of animals we

encountered was just huge, Sometimes we would walk into an area and say, 'We

can't count all this. There are too many footprints,'" he said.

Weiler

said: "The presence of [the Elds deer and wild buffalo] alone makes this whole

area worthy of special management. But beyond that, the presence of an

assemblage of all the dry forest species [with the exception of the kouprey] in

one place is highly significant. The habitat is undisturbed, other than some

rubber-gathering along the Sre Pok River and hunting. There is no resettlement

and no logging going on in this area. The habitat is pristine."

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