Assessing elephant population viability and mitigating HEC in Cambodia´s Cardamom Mountains

Interim Report to the International Elephant Foundation

Prepared by Fauna & Flora International, in collaboration with Ministry of Environment and Forestry Administration, Royal Government of Cambodia

Reporting Period – January June 2010

Authors: Tuy Sereivathana, Project Manager, Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group Matthew Maltby, Projects Officer, FFI Cambodia Programme


The Cardamom Mountains of Southwest Cambodia contain nearly five million acres (two million hectares) of forest, and are thus among the few remaining areas in Indochina where the long-term conservation of large, wide-ranging mammals can be realized. Approximately half of Cambodia’s wild elephants inhabit this area and, given sufficient protection, there is still ample room for them to increase. This project will focus on Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area covering 821,788 acres (333,333 hectares) at the western end of the Cardamom Mountains range. The sanctuary contains more than 80 globally threatened species, including an important population of Asian Elephants. Though designated in 1993, this sanctuary has only just begun to be actively managed by rangers on the ground. Elephants have been poached here in recent years and are increasingly at risk from habitat fragmentation and encroachment by the dozens of poor communities who live inside the sanctuary.

This project is strengthening the capacity of Cambodia´s protected area authority to patrol, monitor and protect Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, with special attention to the core areas used by elephants. In accordance with our jointly agreed five-year management plan, Fauna & Flora International has begun to train and mentor at locally-recruited rangers and assist the Ministry of Environment to develop wildlife monitoring capacity, specifically in camera trapping.

The sanctuary is home to two known discreet elephant populations, both appear to be restricted in their range for reasons other than habitat fragmentation. Previous camera trap studies in the area have been general and non-species specific. "Trailmaster" trap units were used and images of elephants were largely un-useable for individual identification purposes due to only a small part of the body (a trunk of fore-leg) being photographed. We have now begun using "Reconyx PC-55" camera trap units. They are rugged, very low maintenance, secure and can capture an extremely wide field of view. By placing them at hotspots such as watering holes and saltlicks we have been able to take group shots of family groups and clearly identify different individuals to build up a profile of the age and sex structure of the sub population, as well as identify a range of other wildlife species.

In addition, the project team are also working with impoverished local communities to directly address the root causes of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC), poaching and deforestation. Our team has received training from the Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture in Cambodia (CEDAC) who can now in turn give training on improved elephant friendly farming practices to some of the poorest villages in the wildlife sanctuary. This will help to produce a greater quantity and diversity of food on existing farmland, to remove their need to poach wildlife or clear more forestland and ultimately prevent HEC occurring. We are encouraging local people to take an active role in conservation, through forming a network of locally managed forests inside the wildlife sanctuary.

Objectives for this grant:

  1. Elucidate sex ratios of 2 elephant herds in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary to determine long-term viability of the population using camera trapping
  2. Implement locally appropriate responses to HEC inside Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and at existing sites (see map of project sites)

Progress Report:

I. Camera Trapping:

Upon approval of this grant, the project team ordered five Reconyx RC-55 camera trap units from the website. After initial delays of clearing the equipment through Cambodian customs, we liaised with camera trapping expert Jeremy Holden who provided technical advice and initial training to the project team on camera trap setup and deployment. Team members trained included national counterpart staff from both the Forestry Administration and Ministry of Environment, as well as Biology undergraduate interns from the Royal University of Phnom Penh as well as rangers of the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

Our five camera traps were placed strategically around the plateau on the top of Dalai Mountain, at 1030 masl elevation, in the northwest of the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. Two cameras were set around a spring and saltlick which is the only water source during the dry season, with others set along old logging trails along ridges which showed recent sign of being used by elephants and gaur.

Below are some of the pictures we have captured so far:

Guar – Bos gaurus

Hog Badger – Arctonyx collaris

Red Muntjac – Muntiacus muntjak

Muntjac rutting

Eurasian Wild pigs – Sus scrofa

Northern Pig-tailed macaque – Macaca leonina

Porcupine – Hystrix brachyura

Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo – Carpococcyx renauldi

We also captured images of common palm civet – Pardoxurus hermaphroditus, though the most interesting finding to date is the first known photograph of the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo in the Cardamom Mountains. This elusive bird is shy and secretive by nature and is seldom heard, let alone seen. Although large mammals such as Gaur were captured by our cameras during the first six weeks of our camera trapping efforts, images of elephants have so far eluded us, despite the field team regularly coming across elephant tracks and sign around the survey site. We hope for more luck over the next few months. We also encountered fresh bear sign and hope to determine which particular species inhabit the plateau. The camera traps are currently being checked every 6-8 weeks. Ideally this would be more regularly, at one month intervals but the remoteness of the site and the associated high logistical costs in getting there currently limits our trips to less frequent trips.

II. Human Elephant Conflict:

There is currently a low-level incidence of Human Elephant Conflict inside the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, with minor incursions of elephants onto cultivated land bordering the forest around two small villages – Chuteal Chrum and Pocheck Chrum, just east of the location where one of two sub-populations inside the Sanctuary is known to inhabit. Over the past six months we have conducted awareness raising on elephant conservation with village elders, leaders and families along the forest edge. We have trained local villagers and members of the Community Protected Area (CPA) authorities on how to fill in local language forms to record the extent of crop and property damage. All records of HEC are sent to Phnom Penh and stored in our national HEC database.

Due to high levels of HEC emerging at Stung Treng province in northern Cambodia, CECG has shifted some of its focus to respond to the urgent requests from local people on the need for assistance with HEC mitigation. We have now established a new community Guarding Group, made up of eight villagers. We have provided technical and practical training on the setup and deployment of a range of conflict mitigation techniques including watchtower building, noisemaker construction, fireworks, carbide explosions perimeter alarm systems and chili dung burning. We distributed 100 Khmer language HEC Toolbox manuals, as well as Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group T-shirts. We also provided the Guarding Group with one digital camera for recording crop and property damage.

Next steps:

  • Continue with camera trapping study to capture images of elephants on the Dalai Mountain plateau
  • Potentially deploy five more camera traps borrowed from other FFI projects
  • Enter all image data of species recorded by camera trap into new camera trap database
  • Continue monitoring levels of HEC and providing technical assistance at villages inside the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and also at sites in Prey Long forest, Stung Treng province
  • Provide further training to guarding groups on alternative cropping strategies which will improve income and be less susceptible to elephant depredation

A full interim financial report accompanies this document.