Endangered species conservation scientists from the NGO Conservation International (CI) have announced the resumption of their mission in the Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park in Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces after having made a series of discoveries since 2007 of nearly 400 groups of yellow-cheeked crested gibbons (Nomascus gabriellae) with 1,500 or more of the primates in each of them.

CI has been involved in conservation work in Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park since 2007 and has collaborated with the Forestry Administration under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to protect and study what was then designated as the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area, a status that afforded it fewer protections.

In 2016, Veun Sai-Siem Pang area was declared a protected area and was later officially established as a full national park and put under the management and control of the Ministry of Environment.

Hon Naven, conservation programme senior manager at CI, told The Post on August 30 that CI has since also worked with the environment ministry and particularly with the Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provincial environment departments, as well as local communities, in order to protect the area.

He said the mission also continues to conserve and manage the area to ensure the survival of the species and the livelihoods of the local communities.

“Our conservation and management of this area is long-term and we do not plan to stop immediately because we have a long-term goal of conserving this area to ensure sustainable financing and to build the capacity of governments and local communities to effectively manage the area. Local communities in this area are indigenous and they depend on natural resources for food, medicine and income,” he said.

Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park is located in the northeastern part of Cambodia. It is the only area in the Kingdom with a large population of the endangered red-shanked douc. Scientists at CI have also found the species under study – yellow-cheeked crested gibbons – in the north.

The species is found only in forest habitats in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and it is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species.

Naven emphasised that the protection of this species is very important and that the Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park is an area that is mostly covered by lush forests with small and grassland areas.

These habitats provide critical habitat for wildlife, and this area in particular is a global stronghold for the northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbons.

“These yellow-cheeked crested gibbons play a crucial role in the ecosystem as seed dispersers. Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park covers an area of 57,469ha and has an estimated 389 groups of approximately 1,556 individuals of northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbons.,” he said.

At the same time, Naven expressed concern over a number of major threats to the gibbons, including threats to their natural habits like small- and large-scale agriculture, illegal logging, and any hunting even there is a low level of hunting.

He said CI has been working closely with the environment ministry, local authorities and communities to strengthen law enforcement, improve local livelihoods and research and conserve local biodiversity in the area to ensure that the yellow-cheeked crested gibbons and their natural habitat are protected.

“CI has also worked with communities to establish community-based ecotourism focused on gibbon watching. The community members get benefits directly from tourists and some additional revenue is used for village development,” he said.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the environment ministry, said the yellow-cheeked crested gibbon is a rarity in the world, and the discovery of it in a Cambodian protected area is significant and indicates that the Kingdom had the species “in abundance”.

Therefore, he said that the encounter with this rare species is something that requires stakeholders to participate in full and accurate planning to protect and conserve it.

“The yellow-cheeked crested gibbon at Andong Kroloeng in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is attracting a lot of tourists and we believe that if the Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park is favourable to travel in the area with the gibbons present, it then becomes a part of the potential ecotourism destinations that could attract tourists,” he said.

Pheaktra said that according to the study conducted in 2020, in the area of the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, there are about 699 groups of the gibbons and it is estimated that there are about 1,500 yellow-cheeked crested gibbons in the Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park.