Cambodia: around Angkor, the fragile return of endangered wild species

"The project is doing very well," rejoices Nick Marx, one of the leaders of the Wildlife Alliance, to AFP, observing the monkeys with black or white fur eating bananas handed to them by members of the NGO.

Cambodia: around Angkor, the fragile return of endangered wild species

"The project is doing very well," rejoices Nick Marx, one of the leaders of the Wildlife Alliance, to AFP, observing the monkeys with black or white fur eating bananas handed to them by members of the NGO.

Since 2013, this American structure has been collaborating with the public body that manages the Angkor Wat archaeological park (Apsara) and the Cambodian forestry office to repopulate the natural site surrounding the famous remains classified as World Heritage by Unesco.

Smooth-coated otter, barking deer, peacock... Thanks to the program, more than forty endangered animals have found refuge in the 6,500-hectare jungle, long infested with hunters and looters.

"We released four pairs of bonnet gibbons into the Angkor forest and they bred. Seven babies were born here," says Nick Marx.

"It's a great victory for our project," says Chou Radina, Aspara's deputy director in charge of forest management.

Around Angkor, the setting is "the safest", according to Mr. Marx, to restore vulnerable fauna, in particular small primates, because the site has enjoyed a special status of protection since its registration with Unesco in 1992 .

Returned animals have been rescued from poachers, or born in captivity to parents rescued from wildlife trafficking.

Cambodia is not immune to this illegal trade, "still persistent" in Southeast Asia, according to the 2020 report by TRAFFIC, a specialized global monitoring network.

- deforestation -

In the small kingdom, the "too light" sanctions do not deter hunters, according to this NGO which also denounces the place of Cambodia as a transit zone between Africa and China or Vietnam.

“Traps and traditional hunting” also threaten rare wildlife species, admits a spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of the Environment, which assures that 61,000 traps are removed from forests each year.

In addition to poaching, deforestation makes their preservation even more difficult, according to Nick Marx, whose NGO estimates that it saves 2,000 animals a year.

The sanctuary that Wildlife Alliance dedicates to them in Phnom Tamao, an hour's drive from the capital Phnom Penh, is itself threatened by an urban development project.

Between 2001 and 2021, Cambodia lost 30% of its forest area, according to Global Forest Watch (GFW), at a much higher rate than its Thai neighbors (12%), Vietnamese (20%) or Laotian (21%) .

“If wildlife is driven out of the forests and the forests lose their inhabitants, reintroducing or releasing species will become an increasingly important sign of conservation,” says Marx.

The participants in the program hope that the gibbons will reproduce among themselves to continue their repopulation, and that eventually they will become an attraction in the same way as the statues of Buddha in Angkor: "apart from visiting the temples, tourists will have a chance to see nature," says Chou Radina.

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