The Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Programme (WCS) Biodiversity Team, in collaboration with the Preah Vihear provincial Department of Environment, have initiated a six-month research project that involves a survey of pileated gibbons in the northern province’s Phnom Tbeng Natural Heritage Park.

The pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as “Endangered”.

Launched early this month, the project aims to determine the distribution and population density of the thickly-coated lesser apes, and develop an initial conservation management plan to protect and preserve the species.

The survey will be conducted by The Northern Plains Landscape REDD+ project (NPL REDD+), and supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a bureau under the Department of the Interior.

Populations of pileated gibbons are found in western Cambodia, southeastern Thailand and southwestern Laos, the NPL REDD+ said in a Facebook post.

Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra recently said Cambodia is believed to have the highest population of pileated gibbons worldwide, at about 35,000, which is 53.8 per cent of the IUCN’s 65,000 global estimate.

In Cambodia, he said, the highly-arboreal apes mainly live in the forest, particularly in protected areas, and above all in the Cardamom Mountains.

There are around 30,000 pileated gibbons in the eastern part of neighbouring Thailand, and just a small number believed left in southwestern Laos, Pheaktra said.

Separately, 20 wild birds were released into the Angkor Archeological Park on December 23 by the Phnom Penh Forestry Administration and the NGO Wildlife Alliance in collaboration with the Apsara National Authority (ANA) as part of their Angkor Wildlife Release Project.

Chou Radina, deputy director of the ANA’s forestry management, cultural landscape and environment department, said four peafowls, six great hornbills and four wreathed hornbills were all released into the park, having come into the custody of the authorities through wildlife conservation organisations and concerned locals.

Additionally, two pileated gibbons and four peacocks were released into the Angkor Park and Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) forested areas in coordination with the ANA and Wildlife Alliance.

According to Radina, several animals including some belonging to endangered or threatened species were released into the forest of Angkor Park recently, including 13 pileated gibbons, four red muntjacs, 12 silvered langurs, five common palm civets, five smooth-coated otters, two leopard cats and seven oriental pied hornbills, among others. Some of the animals had bred while in captivity and produced offspring.

“For the safety of all wild animals in the forests of Angkor Park and to increase wildlife population numbers, ANA and the Angkor Wildlife Release Project call on the public, national and international guests – especially the people living in that area – to show that they care about the welfare of these wild animals by keeping away from them and never feeding them,” Radina said.