It has been a while since we featured Angkor’s smooth-coated otters in our donor update and now we have some exciting news to share. Late last year, when the released otters came for supplemental fish our Angkor staff noticed that the female was looking round and her nipples plump. On January 23 the otters were first seen with 5 new pups!
As you may remember from previous reports, of the original family brought from Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in November 2019 only the founding female otter remains in Angkor. After their release, the family traveled widely and sometimes did not return for the supplemental fish we provide, for a few days in a row, indicating that they were catching fish and had the skills to survive in the wild. However, the Angkor Archeological Park is not an entirely wild landscape and the female’s original partner and offspring disappeared one by one between 2020 and early 2022. On a few occasions our otters were found in fishing nets and traps, placed in the lakes and waterways of Angkor. Otters may drown if caught in a submerged net or fishermen may kill them if they find them in their traps. We believe this is what befell the missing otters and wrote a letter of explanation to the Director of APSARA, the managing government authority, in the hope that he could put an end to the fishing in Angkor.
To boost the otter population in Angkor, in November 2021 we transferred two young male smooth-coated otters that had been born at Phnom Tamao. Initially the new otters were housed in a small cage built inside the otter enclosure to acclimatize and introduce them to the already released otters. In March 2022, we released the two young males into the main enclosure and within two days they had escaped into the surrounding forest with the founding female otter. One of these males is the father of the new pups.
The family often sleeps in the hole under the small cage inside the enclosure. As the pups have grown, the group has started traveling further away again and occasionally the otters do not come to feed. One pup was smaller than the others, but seemed fine through February. In late March, this smallest pup wasn’t seen for 3 days and it was not in the hole when the keepers’ checked. Recently, only 4 pups have been spotted with the adults and we believe the smallest one may have died. It is difficult to get good photographs of otters as they are seldom still for long, but the keepers’ recently captured this short video of the 3 adults and 1 pup rolling on the forest floor.
Overall, our project to reintroduce native wildlife species back into Angkor is progressing well. The released pileated gibbons and their offspring are fine. The wreathed and great hornbills released in December 2021 are still around – in mid-March APSARA workers reported seeing a few perched together in a big tree in front of the Angkor Wat temple. We have also released a total of 9 green peafowl thus far, and one of the females is now sitting on a clutch of 5 eggs in the APSARA tree nursery. Hopefully we will have some peacock chicks to report on next time!
Loyal supporters like you who share our long-term vision of restoring natural heritage in the heart of Cambodia’s most important cultural heritage site is what makes this exciting project possible. Thank you so much!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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