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Rare primates under assault from hunters

Rare primates under assault from hunters

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

Office.

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

happens here."

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".

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