2019 Jane Goodall Institute Singapore Lecture Series: Cambodia

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[ 4 minute read ]

The first of the JGIS lecture series commenced for 2019, thanks to the help of our sponsors! This lecture featured Nick Marx’s work in Cambodia. Nick is the director of wildlife rescue and care for the Wildlife Alliance, an NGO based in Phnom Penh. With his 20 years of experience working in the Cambodian conservation community, Nick presented his work of rescuing wildlife in an engaging manner for our audience.

Before he proceeded with his topic, Nick reflected on how much our namesake, Jane Goodall, has been a source of inspiration to him and his work – a nice touch and illustration on how Jane Goodall has been a positive role model for the conservation community and beyond.

Nick gave a short overview of conservation in Cambodia and touched on the major impacts of the political and social landscape on the wildlife there. The wildlife trade is a serious threat affecting primates, just like elsewhere (as seen in our previous talks). Nick then elaborated on how gibbons were confiscated from the wildlife trade in Cambodia. They were sent to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center to be rehabilitated and hopefully, released. From his overview, we saw how many political factors were involved in wildlife rescue and release and how much monitoring and management were required.

When Nick started his work in Cambodia, the conditions in Phnom Tamao were not the most conducive. However, under the oversight of Nick and his colleagues, Phnom Tamao developed its manpower and infrastructure and grew to be a vibrant wildlife centre. It became the bedrock in of Nick’s conservation work. A famous and current inhabitant of the wildlife centre is Chhock, the elephant with a prosthetic leg.

As part of his animal rescue effort, Nick was looking for a site to release pileated gibbons (Hylobates pileatus), a highly endangered and sexually dimorphic species of gibbon living west of the Mekong river. He was having trouble finding a suitable site after previously promising sites has been ruled out. An idea dawned upon him: what if the gibbons are released in the forests surrounding the famous UNSECO site of the temples of Angkor? The forests surrounding the Angkor temple were well protected since the iconic historical temples were located within the forests. Therefore, the people also protect the forests and wildlife – just like a true umbrella species. Thus, the Angkor Wildlife Release Project was born!

Luckily for Nick and his colleagues, the Cambodian conservation authorities rapidly brought in his proposal and approved the project. The first subjects for release was a pair of captive-born pileated gibbons. The gibbons were released as a pair as they are pair bonded. They were transported to a suitable site in the Angkor where they were kept in a temporary cage. Once they got used to their new surroundings, the doors of the cage were opened and they were allowed to move freely into the forest.

Releasing the gibbons into the forest is not the end to their animal management program. Nick proceeded with supplementary feeding of the gibbons with bananas so that they stay in an area of the forest that was safe for them. The movements of the gibbons were tracked, showing that the gibbons did not move very far from the spot where they were released. They prefer to stay in a certain area of the forest.

Once the first pair has been established, a second pair of pileated gibbons became candidates for release. In particular, the male was an adult gibbon rescued from the forest. While the second pair of gibbons seemed to get on well with one another, they were not as well bonded, making the process of their release much more complex and prolonged than the first pair. While it seemed like a setback, a successful wildlife release actually takes a long time and should not be rushed. Monitoring of both pairs of pileated gibbons continues till today. Both pairs have done well – giving birth to two offspring each, with the last baby being born in 2018.

The Angkor Wildlife Release Project continues to be successful in achieving its goal of rewilding the forests that surround Angkor. Previously, large, charismatic animals has become extirpated due to hunting from the area. With the success of the pileated gibbons, Nick and his colleagues have been able to reintroduce other species of animals, such as a trio of silvered langurs (Trachypithecus cristatus) and muntjac deer (Muntiacus muntjak). Nick and his team continue to have plans to reintroduce other species to the Angkor forest, such as the smooth otter (Lutrogale perspicillata).

We thank Nick for taking time off his busy schedule to share about his conservation work with us. For more details about the Angkor Wildlife Release Project, you can visit here.

If this talk whets your appetite for conservation, you can receive information about future events for the JGIS Lecture Series on our Facebook and Instagram or find out more about volunteering with us by emailing here. We hope to see you again in future lectures!
(All Photo Credits to Maggie)