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Survey discovers 'new species' daily

Survey discovers 'new species' daily

mouse.jpg
mouse.jpg

Conservationists making the first extensive biological survey of the Cardamoms

say they are overwhelmed by the concentration of wildlife in the mountains some

of which they believe may be new species.

Barney Long, FFI's large mammal expert, inspects 'the mystery mouse', a rodent species the biologists could not identify.

Jennifer Daltry, a biologist

with Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the organization leading the survey,

said: "There are endangered species of large mammals in very high numbers. There

are very high diversity of other groups, new subspecies, and almost certainly

new species.

"Every single day I found new species I hadn't seen before.

I've worked a lot in Thailand so I know the fauna of Southeast Asia well, but

there are so many animals in this area I simply don't recognize."

She

said the survey teams were excited by the numerous signs of elephant, banteng,

gaur, tiger and other big cats in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary - the area

where the first stage of the research began in late January.

Peter

Cutter, a conservation ecologist working with FFI, surveyed the Tampur mountain

complex and the dry deciduous forest of the sanctuary's lower

elevations.

"We found copious signs of sambar and barking deer, some wild

pig, leopard and tiger," said Cutter. "In addition we were shown the fresh

remains of both Asian black bear and smooth-coated otter."

At an

elevation of 1,300 meters on Mount Tampur, Cutter came across "a magnificent

find."

"In the mud of a moist opening, we stumbled across the relatively

fresh tracks of at least two elephants. When I knelt down to clear out the leaf

litter to take a measurement, I uncovered the track of a large tiger - as if

framed in the elephant track," Cutter said.

He added the area he surveyed

was ecologically intact and compared favorably to the forests of western

Thailand where he has worked for three years.

The teams also identified

more than 100 bird species - even before the ornithologists joined the

survey.

Frank Steinheimer, a curator and bird specialist from the British

Museum of Natural History, has just arrived in Cambodia to contribute his

expertise.

The teams have already reported sightings of birds thought to

exist only in the Cardamoms, said Steinheimer, adding the mountains are likely

to be very important to birds migrating from as far away as Siberia and northern

China for the winter.

Meng Monyrak, Vice Chief of the Ministry of

Environment's (MoE) Protected Area Office led the survey's plant team. They had

with them a skilled plant identifier from the Bokor National Park region, said

Monyrak, but he could only recognize about 40 per cent of the plants found in

the Samkos sanctuary.

Monyrak is confident his team found new plant

species, but the specimens they collected must be sent to botanists abroad for

further identification.

Daltry's next goal is to follow leads on the

location of Siamese crocodiles, a "tremendously charismatic" species thought to

be extinct in the wild.

"It would be spectacular to find a viable

population surviving in this region. To protect a species like this would

therefore protect a whole ecosystem as they are the top predators in the lowland

rainforest," she said.

"They would be such a special population, the last

of their kind left in the world."

The survey will continue for the

remaining months of the dry season and the conservationists are anticipating

more exciting discoveries.

"If you look at the size of the area we have

surveyed so far," said Daltry, "it's just a tiny portion of the Samkos

sanctuary. The rest is probably going to be better."

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