Assessing Elephant Population Viability and Mitigating HEC in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains

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 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 unuseable 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.

IEF Interim Report 2010