Wildlife Research and Monitoring
Research and monitoring informs conservation project planning
Throughout FY18, research and monitoring activities focused on a number of target species including the Asian elephant, the white shouldered ibis, the gibbon, the white rumped and red headed vulture and the yellow-checked crested gibbon . Results suggest that populations have generally remained stable or have shown an increase, with the exceptions of vultures, which have declined. Additionally, In June 2018, distance-based transect surveys were conducted in Sreypok Wildlife Sanctuary and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary as part of a tiger prey monitoring exercise: 114 transects were surveyed and a total of 486 encounters involving 13 different species were recorded. Results from the transect surveys indicate that while certain species maintain population numbers, others are in a state of decline (for example bantang ). Additionally, in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment and Panthera (an NGO focusing on cat species), WWF conducted the largest-ever camera trap survey to monitor the (significant decline) of the Indo- Chinese leopard. These activities and associated results are key to informing protected area management decisions.
Key research activities include surveying species through extensive camera-trapping, the use of distance-based line transects for estimating tiger prey densities, scat-detection dogs surveys to search for large carnivores, DNA analysis of elephant dung for monitoring populations and animal movements, GPS collaring of a suite of charismatic species including dhole, Eld’s deer and beautiful Banteng, extensive inventory and collection of vegetation and flora, and photographic identification of Mekong dolphin individuals for population surveys.
Camera trapping involves fastening a protected and camouflaged camera to a tree fixed with an infrared light that detects movement. Through strategically setting up camera traps, WWF is able to capture photos of many species in their natural habitat. WWF-Cambodia uses camera traps in order to try and document the presence of predator species such as tiger, clouded leopard, and golden cat. At the same time, WWF monitors the presence of prey species such as banteng, muntjac, wild pig, and more, as a crucial part of understanding the health of the ecosystem and the potential for tiger population growth and reintroduction.
Camera-trapping conducted between 2008 and 2012 took pictures of Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Asian Golden Cat, Marbled Cat, Leopard Cat and Jungle Cat showing high global conservation value of the EPL.
A WWF survey team along with affiliated government staff performs photo identification surveys annually in order to estimate the population size, dynamics, and behavior of the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River. The method of identifying and surveying Mekong dolphins is through photographing them, with particular focus on the dorsal fin, during a series of field excursions up and down the 200 km stretch of the species’ known habitat, from Kratie to the Lao border and back. Photo-identification is then conducted back in the office along with mark-recapture analysis which uses a mathematical model to estimate dolphin numbers.
In essence line transect surveys involve marking lines or paths through a certain area,which are then regularly monitored and surveyed by field staff for species. There observations are then recorded in detail, and through analysis can determine approximate numbers of species.
Research was conducted in this manner, by WWF and the Cambodian government in order to estimate ungulate (hoofed species) densities in the Eastern Plains Landscape. Result from this study found the population of banteng in the Eastern Plains Landscape to be between 2,700-5,700 individuals. This is the world’s largest population of banteng given the estimated global population is approximately 5,900-11,000.
Besides banteng, the research also confirmed increased numbers of other large mammals including wild pig and muntjac in the area, all of which are important prey species for tiger.
Auditory sampling is a method used to monitor species that are more easily heard than seen, such as gibbons and various bird species. In 2009 WWF conducted a study to estimate gibbon’s distribution and population size through auditory sampling in PPWS. Gibbon's reside in the canopy of the forest and are difficult to view, however there loud, patterned calls make auditory sampling a viable option for auditory research.
By placing GPS collars on species it is possible to trace the approximate location of species, thereby providing incredible information on the movements of individuals and groups, range size and pack behavior. In order to do this, researchers harmlessly capture the species and place GPS collars on them. At the end of the study the collars are either taken off or automatically fall off, depending on the technology.
A newly formed ranger team will focus on elephant conservation
WWF has created a special team of community rangers to work specifically on elephant conservation. They will focus on the Eastern Plains Landscape which has the largest reproducing population of Asian elephants in Cambodia. But while camera-trap photos and biodiversity surveys indicate a healthy and efficient reproduction cycle, the encroachment of human settlements and agriculture into forest areas mean that human-elephant conflict is likely to become a problem in the future. The first training of the new elephant team took place in March 2018, during which the team learned how to communicate with elephants, treat them and to understand their needs. After this the enforcement team was able to put what they had learned into practice with two adult elephants. The aim is that the elephant team will ultimately be able to monitor elephant group presence and identify individuals to collar within the biodiversity corridor. They will also join a large-scale survey that will analyze DNA from elephant dung to acquire a clear estimate of elephant population size in the EPL. A government darting team is also being trained to collar elephants in the sanctuaries to monitor their movement and behavior.