Kdan Mekong 2018
A BINCO Expedition to Cambodia
April/May 2018 – Binco vzw organised an expedition to Kratie, Cambodia. The aim if the project was mainly to study the endangered hog deer. Binco took the chance to use this opportunity to study the broader biodiversity. I got contacted to be part of the mammal team, mainly setting up camera traps and looking for signs of any kind of mammal. This expedition was in collaboration with WWF Belgium and WWF Cambodia. If you want to find out more about the project, check the Kdan Mekong 2018 expedition page on the Binco website.
You can find a link to the report at the end of the blog post.
I was super excited for this new expedition, so I arrived in Phnom Penh (PP), Cambodia, a couple of days early. I basically adapted to the time difference and the heat and explored the city a little bit. One of the first attractions I visited was Wat Phnom, a temple near my hostel. As a tourist you pay $1 to enter, so that’s what I did and wandered around this little hill in the city. On my way out, I noticed some sounds and some creatures hanging in a tree. I found my first mammals of my trip. Some large fruit-eating bats were hanging in a tree. I didn’t bring any binoculars or camera with me on my solo explorations of the city, so I only have a very simple picture from my phone. I stayed at the One Stop Hostel. Very nice staff and good and affordable food.
The rest of my time I explored markets and waited to meet the other team. On the markets I could find other alive and death animals, ranging from birds in cages, to turtles and unidentifiable meat hanging around with lots of flies and a certain smell connected with it.
Meeting up & Cambodian Mine Action Centre
Our meet up was in the Panda hotel in Phnom Penh. Not sure if they only have WWF consumers, but it was a nice hotel near the city centre. Before we were going into the field, we needed some extra equipment and food for our expedition. All the stuff we thought we couldn’t get in the smaller villages, we brought from the capital Phnom Penh.
As we were a bit concerned about mines and cluster bombs, we visited the Cambodian Mine Action Centre for some advice. We told them about our plan of action with locations of basecamps etc. They also had an interesting ‘museum’ with examples of what to find in the field… They advised us to rent their team to do some clearance. Although safety first, they were quite expensive and would limit our abilities to monitor the full area. We probably left this building with more questions than answers, which wasn’t really the scope of this visit. Anyway, it was about time to go to Kratie and explore the area of interest.
Kratie – Getting into the field with camera traps
After some delays with transport, we finally made it to Kratie, a village/city and the shore of the Mekong. It was a beautiful scenery. We stayed in the Kratie Hotel, which is situated next to the Mekong, so you get a great view. Here I took the time to put in all the batteries in the camera traps and check all their settings before they go out in the field. We got our last supplies and checked the study area. We figured out some parts of our study are is totally different than expected. There was already a lot of clearcutting going on and some of the places we wanted to camp (with hammocks) was already a clear-cut, so not so ideal for hammocks and a biodiversity monitoring. From the beginning onwards, this expedition was about planning, replanning and adjusting for unknown adventures.
Finally, the mammal team was able to get out in the field and set up our camera traps. We took a ferry to the other side of the Mekong, where local WWF rangers waited for us on their motorcycles. So I jumped on the back of a motorcycle and of we went. Communication was a bit of a problem, but just using your hand/arm and point in the general direction of travel did most of the job to get to the randomly selected GPS coordinates.
Our first basecamp was situated on an island in the Mekong. On our way from Kratie to Basecamp 1, we were lucky to pass by Kampi, one of the areas the Irrawaddy dolphins. We were lucky to see some already. On the islands, not too many signs of mammals.
Our second basecamp was situated right into the main hog deer area, so we were excited to go and check it out. The weather in the tropics is hard though. With these temperatures, we had to be careful to not push ourselves too hard. We found a couple of tracks and faeces most likely from hog deer. Surprisingly, this area was not super remote, a lot of humans passing by. We saw a lot of people passing by with wood for the coal production. Besides this huge pressure, plastic can be found almost everywhere. We didn’t spot a lot of animals, but we found some clues. I think I can speak for the whole team as this expedition started to become a great mind opener about what’s going on in Cambodia. Almost zero care about the environment by most of the people, every animal has a price for the fur industry, etc…
Basecamp 3 was on a larger island in the Mekong, with previous reports of gaur, monkeys, even some larger cat species,… so we were not giving up hopes for our mammal survey. Arrived on the island, after a boat ride of about 1-2 hours in crazy boats on the huge Mekong, we got into our next issue. We heard rumours about local people hunting with electric wires on the island with huge voltages, so we decided not to go out that night and figure out some stuff the next day. We hired a local guy to takes us across the island, everything seemed fine. Again, false alarm, still not sure where this rumour came from. On the island, we got glimpses of Indochinese silver langur, Pallas squirrel, black giant squirrel, etc. and we found some boar and deer tracks.
Finally, it was time to go to basecamp 4, which should be the most pristine habitat of all the basecamps. And it looked better than all the other camps. The next day we found some potential civet cat footprints, so we set up some camera traps, hoping for the best. On one of the days, we found a large hoof-like footprint, potentially a guar, but could have been a water buffalo as well. As in all the other camps, we did some night surveys with spotlight, searching for mammals. Not very successful either.
Camera trap grid
We were reaching the end of our expedition, and this meant we should prepare ourselves to go and collect the camera traps from our grid we set up at the beginning of the expedition. Our only chance of proving the presence of the endangered hog deer in the area, and hopefully we could collect enough pictures to perform some basic analysis for population calculations.
Lucky enough, we got some hog deer on the camera. We reached our necessary 30 independent pictures of hog deer, which was just enough for our analysis. You can find the link to the report at the end of this blog post.
Bringing the samples home…
We had some issues getting the right permits on time. In the end, I brought back most of our samples after my One month wandering around Cambodia.
Check out my other articles about Cambodia: