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
"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."
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.
Cutter, a conservation ecologist working with FFI, surveyed the Tampur mountain
complex and the dry deciduous forest of the sanctuary's lower
"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."
elevation of 1,300 meters on Mount Tampur, Cutter came across "a magnificent
"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
Frank Steinheimer, a curator and bird specialist from the British
Museum of Natural History, has just arrived in Cambodia to contribute his
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
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."