Read the attached annual report to see all the amazing achievements by our animal husbandry specialists and wildlife rescue team this year as they work tirelessly to rescue, protect, and care for Cambodia's vulnerable and endangered wildlife. 2011 saw many successes - a new prosthesis for Chhouk, our male adolescent elephant missing a leg, countless births and updated enclosures, and over 4,500 life animals rescued from the wildlife trade. We also had some setbacks like the outbreak of avian flu over the summer and the death of Sambo, a rogue bull elephant we had rescued. We are looking forward, as always, to our new projects for 2012 including building a baby nursery, improving the enclosure for Pursat, the only hairy-nosed otter currently living in captivity, and initiating a conservation breeding program for the endangered Indochinese Tiger. We are grateful for everyone's support and look forward to hearing from you in this new year!
On November 17, 2011, a baby gibbon was born in the rehabilitation area at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. The baby was born to a recently introduced pair of gibbons, but the female was very nervous and not expected to breed. Luckily, a healthy baby was born to her and she and her mate are now proud parents!
One of our main objectives with our Care for Rescued Wildlife program is to eventually reintroduce rescued animals to the wild. Other than animals that will require lifetime care, any animals that can be successfully weaned from their dependence on and familiarity with humans are intended for release. We have more than 60 gibbons at PTWRC, most of whom have been rescued, then hand-raised by humans and therefore unsuitable for release. However, all baby gibbons born at PTWRC are mother-raised. Other than the newest addition to our gibbon population, there are 3 other baby gibbons, 2 males and 1 female that have been mother-raised and therefore less accepting of humans. We hope that within a year, a pair of these gibbons would be able to be taken to a release site to start the process of reintroduction. They are currently wary of humans and kept in a 1 hectare (approx. 2.5 acre), well-treed enclosure where they are becoming more and more remote. A successful release of a pair of gibbons would help us fulfill our ultimate goal of reintroduction of wildlife.
Avian influenza – “bird flu” – is one of the most terrifying diseases in Asia. Strains of the H5N1 virus have probably existed for thousands of years, but periodic mutations can lead to widespread deaths of not only birds, but people and other animals as well, including cat species.
In 2003-2004, a massive outbreak of bird flu caused the deaths of hundreds of birds at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, and also caused illnesses in the rescued cat species, including tigers, and other large cats – the first time the disease was ever found to affect felines. In 2011, bird flu has return to Cambodia. Eight people have been reported dead across the country in the past several months, and birds at Phnom Tamao have also fallen ill and died. This time, however, our Care for Rescued Wildlife program staff are better prepared, and are responding accordingly.
On July 12, 2011, the first bird deaths attributed to the most recent outbreak of avian influenza were reported - two spotted wood owls. The bodies of the dead birds were sent to the Cambodian government laboratory for testing animal disease, and they came back positive for H5N1. Other birds on Lakeside and in Quarantine died. The outbreak continued for around five days. In total, our staff found 55 birds at Phnom Tamao that died in the five-day span, including storks, greater and lesser adjutants, pelicans, and several owl species. More migratory or semi-resident birds surely died as well, with populations of lesser adjutants, painted storks, and spot-billed pelicans in significant decline.
Although tragic, this outbreak has so far been nowhere near as damaging as the first in 2003-2004. Wildlife Alliance and Forestry Administration officials took immediate action and were able to contain the disease. The section of Phnom Tamao housing the birds was closed down and disinfectant was sprayed in the relevant areas. Tires of vehicles were also disinfected and only essential staff were allowed to enter the infected areas. From a conservation perspective, the saddest loss is the two endangered greater adjutants, but the most threatened animals, like Sarus cranes, were transferred further away to minimize the risk of disease transmission.
The source of the illness is surely in local farms. We had been told that the disease was hitting local poultry farms in Takeo province, which is undoubtedly where the most recent outbreak originated.
While the initial spasm of bird deaths occurred in a very rapid period of a few days, there have been further bird deaths at PTWRC after the main outbreak. On July 20th a black-crowned night heron died in the Waterbird Aviary. On July 22nd a lesser adjutant was found at Lakeside and on July 31st a woolly-necked stork died in the Aviary. We are also closely monitoring the number of the semi-migratory birds which return each year to Phnom Tamao’s lakeside area from their breeding grounds. We see that spot-billed pelicans and painted stork numbers have dropped drastically, demonstrating the widespread severity and ease of transmission of the disease.
To ensure the safety of the people and animals at Phnom Tamao, Wildlife Alliance is working with the Forestry Administration to continue to implement bio-safety protocols throughout the Rescue Center – monitoring incoming animals carefully and isolating them in Quarantine, feeding the large cats only poultry from known reliable sources, and disinfecting vehicles and people who are working with the birds in our Aviary.
Nick Marx, director of the Care for Rescued Wildlife program, feels strongly that the source of the outbreaks is the poor management of domestic poultry. He says, "This terrible disease will continue to ravage both wild and domestic bird populations until we keep our poultry more humanely, dispose of dead bodies more efficiently and behave more responsibly when disease does strike rather than selling hens on before they succumb to the illness. ...and perhaps be prepared to pay a little more for our food." He also notes that, "None of the fowl at Phnom Tamao suffered from this outbreak - peafowl, jungle fowl or pheasants. This indicates that these birds are actually less susceptible than raptors, pelicans, cranes, storks, and hornbills."
Caring for rescued wild animals is not an easy business, and death is an unfortunate part of the job. We are grateful for the many individual and institutional supporters of our Care for Rescued Wildlife program, whose gifts enable us to respond to wildlife emergencies like the bird flu outbreak. To support our Care for Rescued Wildlife program please donate now.
Wildlife rescue director Nick Marx has devoted his life to saving endangered animals – from his roots in Great Britain, he has worked in South Africa, India, and Cambodia, running Wildlife Alliance’s Care for Rescued Wildlife program for the past ten years.
In this brand-new video, Nick offers a sense of his personal commitment to endangered wildlife, while showcasing some of the 1000 animals under his care at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. It’s clear that for Nick, caring for wildlife is more than job — it’s a passion that has shaped his life since he was a boy. Each of the rescued animals at Phnom Tamao, from elephants to gibbons, represents a second chance for the wildlife species of Southeast Asia that have been reduced to a tiny fraction of their historic populations. Nick knows that more needs to be done — but inside Cambodia, our work means the difference between life and death for these animals. In many cases, these animals or their offspring will be returned to the wild — replenishing populations driven to the verge of extinction due to poaching and wildlife trafficking. As Nick sees it, “People that know us, and know me, know that we do a good job. They see what can be done — with a little bit of money, and a lot of hard work and passion.”
Our Care for Rescued Wildlife program pledges lifelong support for rescued wildlife if needed, but our goal whenever possible is to release healthy animals back into their native forest habitat. How does this all happen?
The key infrastructure to make this possible is at our remote Wildlife Rehabilitation Station in the Cardamom Mountains. There, we bring animals after their rescue and rehabilitation in preparation for release, and continually monitor their health. In the first quarter of the year, Wildlife Rescue director Nick Marx monitored the previously released porcupines, parakeets, and hill mynahs - all were staying nearby, but no longer dependent on food. The previously released greater coucal has not been seen in months. He was a capable bird, we could do no more for him and we have to hope he has survived and moved on to another site.
In January we took five more injured porcupines that could not be released immediately to the Rehabilitation Station. They recovered and were soon ready to go. The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team confiscated 22 long-tailed macaques from traders in February. Most of these were too young for release but we took them to the Rehabilitation Station where they will mature before release. Although they came from the wild and are still very frightened of people, we must hope they do not become too accustomed to human visitors during their time with us.
Towards the end of February, Wildlife Alliance’s veterinarian, wildlife biologist, and Wildlife Rescue Director Nick Marx traveled to fit radio collars on our pair of binturongs that we took down almost exactly one year ago. They had a baby last year, and we hoped to release the family as a group, as the youngster is still only around six months old.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Station is ideal for releasing animals. The forest is alive with birds and a tiny sunbird couple has built a nest in the small clump of brush besides the WRS camp, a long beak poking out of the untidy cluster indicating someone was home. It is a tranquil environment - protected from hunting and habitat encroachment, and monitored continually by a group of wildlife specialists.
We fitted the collars to the “bintys” and had returned to the daily grind “up country” when Mr. Goeurn, one of our staff members at WRS, notified our wildlife biologist that more baby binturongs had been born. This seemed to be a little soon after the first, but we could do nothing about it. The binturong release had been delayed for too long already, so on March 7th our staff traveled to Chi Phat, just before the start of the heavy seasonal rains. The skies opened up and the truck got stuck when we left the main road. Outside of the rehabilitation enclosure, we set up two camera traps graciously lent to us from the Wildlife Conservation Society, opened the cage slide door and returned to camp to cook an evening meal.
The next morning the male and older baby were sitting on branches just beside the enclosure, the female was in her nesting barrel with her new babies. A second check on the binturongs during the day revealed that the mother had left the enclosure. By nightfall she had not returned. I was worried about the new infants, only around three weeks old, but we did not interfere. The following morning our worries were over. Mother had returned to care for her babies.
We had fitted the binturongs with radio collars to track their health and whereabouts. The collars we fitted give us two options for tracking the animals: One is regular VHF monitoring using an antenna to follow the signal. The second is by GSM, whereby the binturongs’ positions are downloaded and sent to us by email each day. The idea is not necessarily to see the animals firsthand – this is usually impossible in dense forest – but to know they are moving around and coping.
The way points we have received reveal that the female has not gone far from the enclosure and her new babies. The male has been moving around a little further afield. We have not seen the first born youngster as our camera traps are not functioning properly. However he may well be returning at night to eat the food that we are putting inside the cage for them all, some of which is disappearing. There have been some heavy downpours and the rainy season is just starting in Koh Kong, but binturongs don’t seem to care rain, preferring to remain in the tree tops whatever the weather rather than take shelter. It is an ideal time for release. There is an abundance of wild forest fruit available at present so there is every chance that our captive born bintys, mother, older baby and his father, who has now circled around in a radius of around 1km and returned close to the enclosure, will be fine.
We have shipped a new batch of camera traps and memory cards from the United States to improve our ability to monitor the released wild animals. Between camera traps, radio collaring, visual observation, and other assessments, we will be able to ensure the best possible life for all the animals we have rescued, cared for, rehabilitated, and released.
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Communications and Finance Field Liaison