A Pileated Gibbon, captured in the Candamon Mountains, stares glumly at a bleak future for he and his species.
A number of primate species-humankind's closest "relatives"- are in danger
of becoming extinct in Cambodia within the next ten years unless measures are taken
to protect them, according to research conducted by Flora and Fauna International
(FFI), in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment and the Wildlife Protection
The precarious assessment of monkeys, lorises and apes in the Kingdom comes on the
heels of the first substantive research survey ever produced on Cambodian primates.
Will some primate species disappear from Cambodia in the next ten years? "Maybe,"
says Frank Momberg, FFI's Indochina Programme Manager, unless a variety of steps
are taken immediately to prevent their demise.
"Primates are hunted everywhere-for food, medicine or as bait for catching tigers,"
says Momberg, commenting on the recently released FFI report "Cambodian Primates:
Surveys in the Cardamom Mountains and Northwest Mondulkiri Province", produced
with funding from the British Embassy and Conservation International (CI).
The bad news from Cambodia follows statements made last year by the US-based CI when
their president announced that the 21st century could be the first in recorded history
to witness the extinction of primate species.
Here in the Kingdom, the grim reality of Homo Sapien's inability to co-exist with
their not-so-distant, genetically proximate brothers and sisters may become manifest
before Commune elections are held.
High on the Cambodian list of rapidly vanishing "cousins" are the Black-shanked
douc langur (Pygathrix nigripes) and the Pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus), considered
globally "endangered" and "vulnerable" respectively.
Loris skins, like the ones above at Orasey Market in Phnom Penh, are on sale at most markets throughout the country.
Referring to Pileated gibbons, Barney Long, one of the report's authors, says, "Their
worldwide distribution is centered in Cambodia, so their survival depends on what
Momberg estimates that between "several hundred to 1,000" gibbons exist
in the Cardamom Mountains, "probably the largest population" in the world.
As for the rarer Black-shanked douc langur, found only on the east side of the Mekong,
there are probably "not more than 250" in Mondulkiri and Rattankiri, while
they have been "all shot out" in Laos and Vietnam.
Overall, the FFI report says that there are nine species of primates known in Cambodia,
including varieties of loris, macaques and gibbons. "All but one of these species
(the slow loris Nycticebus coucang) are globally threatened or near threatened with
extinction," says the report.
The report makes a variety of recommendations on how to deal with the problem, including
clarifying and effectively enforcing the law prohibiting hunting of wildlife, establishing
anti-poaching patrols, improving protected area management, developing environmental
education programs, and capacity development for Cambodia's conservationists and
relevant government department staff.
But the battle to save Cambodia's primates may be uphill.
The Ministry of Environment (MoE) is well aware of the dilemma, however they cite
a lack of resources to deal with the issue.
"We have a policy to save all wildlife in protected areas...but we don't have
enough equipment, like communications and transportation. So, it is hard to control,"
says Ros Ban Sok at MoE's Department of Nature Conservation and Protection.
"The main problem is finance," he adds. "We proposed [to the government]
120 rangers for the Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary but we only have 20 so far. We hope
that FFI will help us."
FFI, for its part, has initiated a Primate Conservation Program this year with a
budget of $20,000. They plan to survey the entire country, provide funds for primate
conservation activities, and support moves to protect areas using a combination of
law enforcement and awareness training.
Happy hunter, dead ape: A soldier in T'mar Beng displays his recent catch - the meat is eaten and bones sold for medicinal purposes.
Whether or not these initiatives will be sufficient to save the rapidly dwindling
primate community in Cambodia remains to be seen, especially as Ros Ban Sok says
many of them are being killed by hunters "just for fun".