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Rare ‘Costumed Ape’ Sighted in Forest

Jonathan Cox / Khmer Times Share:
A red-shanked douc at the Singapore Zoo. Supplied

Robin Loveridge had rolled out of his hammock at dawn to go on a walk along the Sekong River in Siem Pang forest when he saw three bright gold faces peering down at him from the tree canopy.
 
The faces and flashy orange-red coloring belonged to a group of red-shanked doucs – a rare species known as “the costumed ape” that is as beautiful as it is endangered.
 
“We [a team of six from conservation organization Bird Life International, or BLI] were spending eight days out in the woods checking the camera traps,” said Mr. Loveridge, who works as a technical advisor for BLI.
 
“I did some early morning walks, and one morning I saw this group of three [doucs] with quite orange faces and they came down close to where we were camped.”
 
This was the first time red-shanked doucs have been sighted in Siem Pang, which was designated as a protected area in 2014. The 67,000 hectare forest is in one of the remotest areas of Cambodia, with few motorbike paths or human settlements.
 
Some experts believe it could be one of the last bastions of the endangered red-shanked douc and its close relative, the critically endangered grey-shanked douc.
 
“Given its size and the fact that there are doucs there, this could be the global stronghold of the species,” said Jackson Frechette, flagship species manager for Flora and Fauna International.
 
The belt of protected forest in the north of the country is a perfect habitat for the primates – it has evergreen trees that can provide them with a diet of new leaves year-round, and conservation workers said poaching on the Cambodian side of the forest is still relatively rare.
 
Poaching has ravaged monkey populations in the Vietnamese forests, though, and experts said they worry the practice could spill over into Cambodia, where monkey meat is sometimes sold in rural markets and restaurants.
 
While Cambodian hunters mostly prey on more common monkeys like the long-tailed macaque, Mr. Frechette said poachers seem to be expanding their scope to hunt other primates like the douc.
 
“It seems recently…that there’s an increase in monkey hunting,” he told Khmer Times. “Before it was just opportunistic – people would shoot one if they saw one. But now, anecdotally, it seems to be increasing. It’s worrying.”
 
Shortly after his red-shanked douc sighting during last week’s trip into Siem Pang forest, Mr. Loveridge saw the results of illegal poaching first-hand.
 
“We had heard a lot of gunfire in the forest,” he said. “A lot of AK-47s going off. The next day we found a red-shanked douc that had been shot. It was very sad to see a beautiful group of them alive, and a few days later to find one that’s been shot and eaten by maggots.”

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