Researchers have released new photos offering a rare glimpse of endangered elephant herds seen traveling with calves through the Tonle Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province earlier this month.
The photos are part of a conservation supervisory project undertaken by Winrock International and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in partnership with USAID Supporting Forests and Biodiversity (USAID SFB).
Over a period of six months, 90 high resolution “camera traps” were set at 54 different watering holes throughout the approximately 400,000 hectare sanctuary, formerly known as Mondulkiri Protected Forest, located on the province’s eastern plains. A biodiversity monitoring team collected 144,000 photographs, identifying 28 species – several of them endangered or critically-endangered – including elephants, Bantengs and the country’s imperiled national bird, the Giant Ibis.
Chhith Sam Ath, country director of WWF-Cambodia, said the threat of extinction facing the country’s elephant population is imminent.
“The Asian elephant is globally classified as endangered and worldwide, this charismatic species has suffered a 90 percent decline in its historical range,” he told Khmer Times.
Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest black market in the world, with the illegal trade in exotic endangered species, their meat and byproducts estimated to have an annual value of $20 billion. According to USAID, at the current rates of illicit wildlife trade, up to 40 percent of Asian wildlife could be lost in the next century.
“The major threats to the wildlife in Cambodia are poaching and the loss of their habitat. Monitoring species population trends is crucial for assessing current conservation and can assist key decision makers in conserving these important populations through evidence based results,” said Mr. Chhith.
According to USAID SFB, since February, law enforcement and environmental agents have confiscated more than 3,000 snares, 30 motorized vehicles and more than 400 meters of electric snaring just within the Tonle Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries of Mondulkiri.
Adding to the threat against wildlife is the illegal timber trade and land encroachment, which have contributed to the destruction of delicate eco-systems and created challenges to conservation efforts. Mr. Chhith also noted that civilians were often unaware of their roles in contributing to the depletion of endangered wildlife – citing that eating bush meat increased the demand for wildlife poaching.
With elephant populations declining by at least 50 percent over the last three generations, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, the new sightings at Tonle Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary offer a glimpse of hope for the future.