Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest

by Wildlife Alliance
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Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Help Bring Wildlife Back to Angkor Forest
Chung-ruth (L) as juvenile with family in 2020
Chung-ruth (L) as juvenile with family in 2020

Pileated gibbons were fully extirpated from Angkor before our project began, so we’ve always known that eventually we’d have to play cupid for the first generation of wild-born gibbons. Helping these gibbons to find mates and forge new families is a long-term process and we appreciate the support of donors like you who understand the value of this investment.

Chung-ruth was born in 2017 to the first pair of gibbons released in Angkor, Baray and Saranick. As you may have read in previous reports, Chung-ruth’s older sister Ping-peeung reached adulthood in 2020 and was driven out of the family forest by her parents, as is natural for these territorial apes. To help Ping-peeung find love, we captured her and enclosed her at a different site with a male who had been transferred from the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre. They quickly bonded and were released together a year later, forming Angkor’s fourth gibbon pair.

Chung-ruth has now reached adulthood and his fur is turning from the blond color of all juvenile pileated gibbons to the black of a mature male. Our keepers began to see signs of tension between Chung-ruth and his parents last year. Knowing that they would soon start to drive him away, we decided to capture Chung-ruth and move him to the territory of widowed female gibbon Tevy and her three offspring. In June 2022, we constructed a small catch cage at Baray and Saranick’s site and started placing food into it. The gibbons started going in and out of the cage to collect the food. We knew we would only get one chance to catch Chung-ruth and if we messed it up, he would never enter the cage again.

On October 19,we caught Chung-ruth and transferred him to a large pre-release enclosure at Tevy’s site. Tevy and her original partner, Bayon, were the second pair released in Angkor, but sadly Bayon died in 2021 of unknown causes. The keepers believe all of their offspring are female. All has gone well and the gibbons are interacting. The eldest daughter, Aping, born in 2016, is just a bit older than Chung-ruth. While either she or her mother could potentially be a suitable mate, so far Chung-ruth seems frightened of Tevy and more interested in Aping. A fifth gibbon pair in Angkor is our eventual aim, and it would be fitting if the wild-born offspring of the first two released pairs coupled up! For now, we are still observing and assessing the dynamics and plan to release Chung-ruth there if the gibbons become comfortable with each other and it seems the appropriate course of action.

Creating a whole new gibbon population in Angkor requires longstanding dedication and careful management. Support from generous donors like you enables us continue this important work over the long-run, helping to ensure that when the descendants of Chung-ruth, Ping-Peeung and the rest of Angkor’s first wild-born generation come of age they will have a variety of mates to choose from.

Thank you so much for your support!

Baray inspects the catch cage
Baray inspects the catch cage
Chung-ruth in enclosure being visited by Tevy
Chung-ruth in enclosure being visited by Tevy
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Silvered langur adult and baby
Silvered langur adult and baby

Things are going well for the released animals now living in the forests of the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia that your donations support, and we have not had any serious concerns during the past quarter. Despite the current heavy rains, all seem to be coping well in their transfer to a walk on the wild side.

Obviously wet weather does not bother our three otters, who still return most days to eat the fish we continue to provide. They seem to be staying closer to their release enclosure, perhaps realizing the dangers that fishermen’s nets and fish traps pose to unwary otters. We have written to APSARA, the Government authority that manages this UNESCO World Heritage Site, about this matter, requesting intervention to help keep our animals safe. For now the supplemental food we provide remains essential – and camera trap photos in June showed them waiting in their enclosure for the fish to arrive one day when keeper Sarin was later than usual!

The wild silvered langurs that we rescued at the Government’s request from an island off the coast of Sihanoukville that was being developed and released into Angkor in 2018 have split into 2 troupes. Keen observers can sometimes see them high in the forest canopy. Langur numbers are increasing as indicated by the bright orange infants, a stark contrast to the grey and black colouring of their parents.

Other animals we have released, such as red muntjac and small carnivores like leopard cats and civets are very seldom seen, but their footprints indicate they are surviving. The birds, green peafowl and three species of hornbills we released last year, are mobile with hornbills now seen entering the outskirts of the city of Siem Reap. Only one green peafowl still returns regularly to eat the food we provide.

The four pairs of pileated gibbons we have released and their offspring – now 7 wild-born infants in total – are also fine. The youngest of the wild-born babies, Mey-ambaugh (Butterfly in Khmer), is now about a year old and big enough to leave her mother for periods of time. Recently, we had a small scare concerning Bakheng, the partner of Ping-peeung who was the first gibbon to be born in Angkor and has now grown into an 8-year old adult. It has been raining constantly and our keepers who monitor and offer food to our animals post-release did not see Bakheng for a day and a half. Thankfully our concerns proved to be unfounded and he reappeared. Perhaps he was just sheltering from the rain.

There is a long road ahead in our project to restore some of Cambodia’s beautiful natural heritage into her primary site of cultural heritage and many things can go wrong, but with all going smoothly right now we will simply say “so far so good”.

Your donations make it possible for us to continue providing long-term supplemental food and monitoring, which is so important to ensure our releases lead to successful reintroductions, particularly for species such as gibbons and otters, and eventually will lead to sustainable wildlife populations in Angkor. Thank you so much for your support.

Mey-ambaugh with mother, July 2022
Mey-ambaugh with mother, July 2022
Otters waiting for supplemental fish feed
Otters waiting for supplemental fish feed
Single released peafowl who still returns for food
Single released peafowl who still returns for food
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Chung-ruth (wild-born 2017) and mother Saranick
Chung-ruth (wild-born 2017) and mother Saranick

With all of the recent otter and bird releases, it’s been a while since we featured gibbons in a report for our GlobalGiving donors. My boss, Nick, travels to field sites around the country every week while my work mostly keeps me deskbound in Phnom Penh. But in June I was able to visit the first gibbon pair released in Angkor! So this report is about their family’s story, visiting them with my own family, and why it is important that only appropriate animals are released and that correct protocols are followed.

The first gibbon pair released in Angkor, Baray (male) and Saranick (female), were born in captivity at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre to parents rescued from the illegal trade. Most primates rescued from the pet trade in Cambodia are humanized, and thus sadly cannot be safely released because they lack the skills needed to survive in the wild and they tend to be less fearful of humans, so they may become either overly-friendly or aggressive towards people. However, natural behavior is encouraged at Phnom Tamao by providing large enclosures where gibbons can live in pairs and raise their own young. Thus, unlike their rescued parents who were raised by humans, Baray and Saranick were raised by their own mothers and exhibited behaviors that made them ideal release candidates. They were transferred to Angkor in 2013 and spent 6 months acclimatizing to their new surroundings in an enclosure. When released, they became the first pileated gibbons to enjoy freedom in Angkor’s ancient forests since the species was extirpated from the area due to hunting during Cambodia’s genocide and civil war.

Today, Saranick and Baray still live in the forest surrounding their release site with their two younger offspring, Chung-ruth (which means ‘cricket’ in Khmer) who is almost 5-years old and 2-year old Kontes-long (‘water beetle’). While comfortable with Wildlife Alliance’s animal keepers who they see every day, as you can see from the zoom lens photos below that my partner took, Baray and Saranick are quite wary of people they don’t know - like my family! This is good because it means they are unlikely to seek out people or become humanized and should stay in the safe area of forest selected for their release site, which is away from heavily visited areas of the Park such as Angkor Wat. After the keepers filled their feed basket with rambutan and other fruits, we watched from a respectful distance as each gibbon descended to snatch some fruit and then quickly retreated to higher branches to eat.

Unlike more social monkey species such as macaques, which live in large groups, pileated gibbons are territorial apes. They tend to live in pairs that defend a sizeable area of about 30 hectares, and grown offspring move away when they reach adulthood. That is why Baray and Saranick’s eldest daughter, Ping-Peeung (‘spider’), born in 2014, is no longer with their family group. When Ping-Peeung reached 5 years of age, her parents began to chase her away from the family’s feed basket. Now that Chung-ruth is approaching adulthood, our staff have noticed that Baray might be starting to display similar behavior. During our short visit, Baray jumped towards Chung-ruth several times to steal his seat on a branch and/or hug him in what seemed at times playful, but definitely dominant, behavior.

With Ping-peeung, hanging a second basket in another tree resolved the family tensions for a while. But in December 2020 she was finally driven out, left her family’s territory and entered a village nearby. We captured Ping-Peeung and brought her to a different release site to introduce her to a young male, Bakheng, who had been brought up from Phnom Tamao. The two spent about a year bonding together and acclimatizing before they were released. This is a good example of how we carefully plan and execute our releases to give each animal the best chance of survival and intervene to manage them as necessary.

Over the past few years, we have been promoting this project to elevate the importance of wildlife conservation within this world famous cultural heritage site, and the idea of re-wilding Angkor seems to have captured the public’s imagination! After seeing this video a local man who had been looking after many green peafowl and hornbills contacted our staff and offered to donate all of his birds for release in Angkor. This was an excellent opportunity to reintroduce beautiful, large native bird species and they were soft-released by our program following appropriate protocols.

However, not all wild animals are suitable for release and it is essential to understand the species’ needs and assess each individual’s condition before releasing any wild animal! Near the end of May, a visitor showed up at the Angkor Zipline Centre with a gibbon that he intended to release. We do not advertise the locations of our release sites, but gibbon calls are quite loud and many local people know there are gibbons in the forest nearby the Centre so he probably thought this would be a good place to release his gibbon as well. While this enthusiasm for reintroducing wildlife to Angkor is what we hope to inspire, it would have been terrible if this well-meaning person had released this adult male gibbon there. It was tame and lacked the skills required for life in the wild and Baray surely would have defended his family’s territory against this outsider! Luckily, we have a good relationship with the Zipline staff who alerted us before the other gibbon was released. Instead it was collected by our Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team and taken to Phnom Tamao, where it is receiving the rehabilitation and care it needs.

Your generous donations make it possible for our team to be onsite every day, giving supplemental food and conducting long-term monitoring of our released gibbons and their wild-born offspring. The Angkor keepers’ constant presence and ties to local people within the Park enables us to keep abreast of the many surprises and challenges that arise in this groundbreaking and experimental project. Thank you so much for your support!

Baray, wary father
Baray, wary father
Saranick, watching from afar
Saranick, watching from afar
Baray eating rambutan
Baray eating rambutan

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Otter feeding in Angkor
Otter feeding in Angkor

Our work to reintroduce appropriate wild animals into the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap is progressing. Our four released gibbon families are well and new baby, Mey-ambaugh, or Butterfly, born in September 2021, is growing. The hornbills and green peafowl we released at the end of last year are also regularly seen within the Park. In our last report we explained that two more young smooth-coated otters born at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre were transferred to the Angkor Archeological Park in November 2021. Although the keepers at Phnom Tamao thought the otters were female, as they have matured our Angkor keepers realized the new youngsters are actually males!

Initially the new otters were housed in a small cage we built inside the Angkor otter enclosure to commence acclimatization and introduction to the already released otters. In March 2022, we released the two young males into the main enclosure. They were extremely happy to be out of the small cage and immediately frolicked happily in the pool. Within two days the otters escaped into the surrounding forest with the previously released founding female otter. They return most days to eat the live fish we continue to put in their pool, although their occasional absences clearly indicate they are also catching fish for themselves in the lakes and streams of Angkor.

Although our released otters have been looking after themselves well in the forest, over time, one by one they have disappeared. We released the first pair of otters and one of their offspring in November 2019 after several months of acclimatizing in the enclosure. The youngster disappeared shortly after their release. The released pair produced two more pups early in 2020. The family of four traveled widely together and were spotted several kilometers from their release site. The father otter disappeared in early 2021. Then both of the grown pups disappeared in February 2022. As of March, only the founding female and the two newest otters, recently transferred from Phnom Tamao, remain. We now know why we have been losing them.

On two or three occasions our otters have been found in fish nets and traps, placed in the lakes and waterways of Angkor by fishermen. Most recently keepers Sarin and Rith found a young male in a net trap. The otter freed himself before they could help, but the reason we are losing our otters is now clear. They may drown if caught in a submerged net, or perhaps the fishermen kill them when they find them in their traps. I have written a letter of explanation to the Director of APSARA, the managing government authority, in the hope that he can put an end to the fishing in Angkor. This may or may not be possible, but we must try.

Thank you so much for supporting this project to bring wildlife back to Angkor. Establishing new populations of wildlife previously extirpated from the area, is a long-term endeavor and we will continue to address all of the challenges that arise.

Camera trap photo of otters in release enclosure
Camera trap photo of otters in release enclosure
Mother gibbon, Pompoy, with infant, Mey-ambaugh
Mother gibbon, Pompoy, with infant, Mey-ambaugh
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Wreathed hornbills sitting in and out of enclosure
Wreathed hornbills sitting in and out of enclosure

Our project to reintroduce wild animals into Angkor Archeological Park progresses well. Previously released gibbons and hornbills are well. And the past quarter was quite eventful as we brought more otters from Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) to begin acclimatization, released the peafowl and hornbills, and gave a fourth pileated gibbon pair their freedom!

In November, we transferred 2 young female smooth-coated otters, born at PTWRC, into a new acclimatization cage constructed inside the large enclosure from which we previously released red muntjac and otters. Initially there was little contact from the 3 otters already released, but gradually the residents started taking an interest in the new arrivals. We have seen no aggression between the two groups, which bodes well for the day when we open the cage door. The young females have had very little contact with people and are wary – a good sign.

The Reintroduction Project Manager, Bunthoeun, and I felt that the great and wreathed hornbills and green peafowl that have been acclimatizing since May 2021 were ready for release, particularly as the great hornbills became very stressed whenever people approached their enclosure. On December 23 we opened the trap doors high on the sides of the two enclosures for the hornbills to leave and opened the main doors for the peafowl to make their exit. Gradually all the birds left. As always, we continue to place food for them, in baskets high in the surrounding trees for the hornbills and on the ground for the peafowl. They return singly to feed, but it does not look like they all come back every day, so to some extent they must be finding their own food in the forest. Now and again we receive reports of a wreathed or great hornbill flying over Angkor Wat and the peafowl are sometimes seen from the road. All has gone well so far. The day after the birds’ release the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity brought another 4 green peafowl bred at their Centre for release. These peafowl were extremely nervous and would have fared poorly inside an enclosure. We hard-released them at Lake Santamea, a wild and less visited site within Angkor Thom. They left immediately and have not been seen again, although peafowl calls are now heard from time to time in the forest.

We recaptured Ping-peeung, the first gibbon to be born in Angkor and now adult, one year ago when she left her parents, Baray and Saranick, and entered a village. We placed her in a release enclosure at Takao Gate with male Bakheng, who had been transferred from PTWRC, and the two settled down well together. It was time for Ping-peeung to have another chance at life in the forest, so on December 23 we opened the enclosure door. She left almost immediately, but Bakheng, having been born in captivity, was extremely hesitant. He left the enclosure through the roof trap door, only to return again almost immediately. We placed food outside the enclosure, adjacent to the roof. Bakheng went to feed, but quickly re-entered the cage once he had eaten. This went on for days. Ping-peeung loitered around in the branches above, clearly waiting for the much younger male to join her. How sweet! But she also travelled and the keepers did not see her at feed time on some days, which caused us a little concern. Would she get bored and travel outside the forest again in search of another mate? Bakheng was clearly apprehensive and also uncertain of his own abilities in the trees – a skill that can only come with practice. I am always a little apprehensive when we release the animals we have been caring for, as many things can go wrong. When we first released Tevy, also born in a cage at PTWRC, she was travelling through the branches in Angkor when one she was swinging on broke and she plummeted earthwards. Had she not grabbed a small sapling one meter before she hit the ground, broken bones were a certainty! I need not have worried for Bakheng. He finally left the enclosure to join Ping-peeung in the tree tops and he is getting around fine.

Check out footage from these bird and gibbon releases here. With great hornbills, wreathed hornbills, green peafowl, and a fourth pair of Endangered pileated gibbons now enjoying the freedom of the forest in Angkor, 2022 is off to an excellent start! Your generous donations make it possible to rebuild wildlife populations in Angkor, a long-term endeavor that will have enduring impacts. Thank you so much for your support.

Release of Angkor's 4th gibbon pair
Release of Angkor's 4th gibbon pair
Great hornbills exiting enclosure
Great hornbills exiting enclosure
Peafowl peeks from enclosure and another explores
Peafowl peeks from enclosure and another explores

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Organization Information

Wildlife Alliance

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @WildlifeRescue
Project Leader:
Elisabeth Gish
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
$6,087 raised of $10,000 goal
 
74 donations
$3,913 to go
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