Mekong floodplains – Cambodia

The Kdan Mekong Expedition 2018, Kratie province

Hog deer (Axis porcinus) were once widespread throughout much of lowland Southern and mainland Southeast Asia (Evans 1902), but numbers have rapidly declined during the last two decades (2015 IUCN status “Endangered”). At this moment, few isolated populations remain which are vulnerable to uncontrolled hunting and wildlife trade (Bezuijen et al. 2008), while traditional farming associated with cutting and burning of tall grasslands is reducing food availability and cover of suitable habitat. Furthermore, since hog deer find food and cover in pioneer vegetation such as Saccharum spp. (Odden et al. 2005, Odden and Wegge 2007), ongoing dam construction and associated flood control additionally results in the loss of prime hog deer habitat through accelerated secondary succession (Odden et al. 2005).

In Cambodia, a former hog deer stronghold, the species had been considered extinct until 2006 when a subpopulation (Axis porcinus annamiticus) was rediscovered along the western banks of the Mekong river in the Kratie Province (Maxwell et al. 2006).

Cambodia now holds the only known wild population of the annamiticus subspecies (Maxwell et al. 2006, Timmins et al. 2015).

There were no other direct hog deer sightings between 2006 and 2017, but there have been a couple of indirect sightings (tracks, dung, credible local reports). A second hog deer population was discovered in 2008 by Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) in the coastal lowlands of southwest Cambodia (Timmins & Sechrest 2012). In 2017, WWF Cambodia captured another four individual hog deer on camera traps in the same area where Maxwell et al. (2006) had rediscovered the species. This same area is now threatened by miners aiming for minerals, oil and gas (Source: Mongabay, 17 January 2018). As a result, it has become clear that urgent legal protection of the area is key to the survival of the Cambodian (sub-)species. The willingness to cooperate is high among local villagers and farmers (pers. comm. Channa Phan). Such local involvement increases the chance of effectively establishing a protected region.

Two large areas in Kratie province, Cambodia, have been proposed by WWF Cambodia as a potential hog deer protected area. The areas are located in the Mekong landscape and include (temporal) flood plains, marshes, forests, (rice) fields. Hog deer are water bound and serve as umbrella species, meaning that protection of high-quality hog deer habitat (i.e. floodplain grasslands and –forests) will indirectly lead to the protection of many other species.

The current Biodiversity Express Survey (BES), coordinated by BINCO aimed to gain insight in the presence, location and density of hog deer in the region. Additionally we sought to update the biological knowledge in this region by undertaking a rapid multi-disciplinary biological inventory of two regions: Preak Prasab Wildlife Sanctuary and Sambour Wildlife Sanctuary, in order to understand their conservation value. These two regions were delineated by WWF Cambodia and the Ministery of Environment of Cambodia as potential nature reserves. We undertook fieldwork at four study sites between 28 April – 21 May 2018 within these two regions with the specific aim of crossing the dry-wet season divide. We collected information on birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and selected invertebrate groups.

The initial results of our field surveys yielded valuable discoveries across taxonomic groups comprising multiple range extensions and the presence of some new populations of threatened species. We are pleased to confirm the presence of hog deer (Axis porcinus annamiticus) in the region. Other large mammal species observations were surprisingly low but included observations of Indochinese Silvered Langur (Trachypithecus germaini) and the black giant squirrel (Ratufa bicolor). A total of 219 bird species including four globally threatened and eleven near threatened species were observed. Notable bird observations included wintering Manchurian Reed-Warblers (Acrocephalus tangorum), White-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni), and Cambodia’s fourth record of Green-backed Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae). Amphibian and reptile surveys disclosed slightly over 50 species, including the balloon frog (Glyphoglossus molossus) and Mekong snail eating turtle (Malayemys subtrijuga). Invertebrates are under study and results will be added to the report as they become available.

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