Howie Nielsen on a trek earlier this year into a remote portion of Virachey National Park. Photo by: Greg McCann.
Ringed with forested mountains forming the borders with Laos and Vietnam, the northeast corner of Cambodia has been an intriguing blank spot among my extensive travels through the country. Nestled up against this frontier is Virachey National Park, created in 1993.
I began searching for a way to explore this area a couple of years ago, hoping to connect with conservation NGOs to get me into the park; no one seemed to know much about it. I learned that the area had been written off by these groups due to massive land concessions given to logging and rubber concerns. The World Bank abandoned its 8-year effort to create a management scheme for Virachey after the concessions were granted in 2007. A moratorium on the concessions is temporarily in place, but illegal logging incursions into the park continue.
The only attempt at a biological assessment came in October 2007, when Conservation International helicoptered 10 researchers into the park for a 2 week stay. Remarkably, no one was there for the birdlife. As a result, little is known about the park’s avifauna, which wet my whistle. I figured that if I reached montane forests near 1200 meters of elevation, I would possibly discover birds never recorded previously in Cambodia (see full bird list from the trip at the end).
This trek came to be as a result of an 8-month email relationship with Greg McCann (see Greg’s note at bottom). Greg has visited the region 4 years in a row, as he finishes his PhD work on the relationship between tribal animism and the regional ecology. He records their myths and stories, looking for how they are derived from the local biogeography. His trips to Ratanakiri drew him deeper into the bush with each subsequent trip. This year’s effort to the Yak Yeuk grassland, nestled at the base of the spirit mountains, had never been organized by the National Park office before. To their knowledge, only one outsider had ever visited Yak Yeuk. Greg had established a network of contacts among the tribal villages, during his previous visits. They were able to make arrangements with a group from the Kavet minority that knew how to reach the grasslands.
Little-visited Mera Mountain in Virachey National Park. Photo by: Greg McCann.
The area is home to a variety of highland tribes, including Kavet, Brao, Kreung, and Tampuan populations. Historically, these areas were raided for slaves by the dominant Khmer and Siamese cultures. In 1863, Cambodia became a French protectorate. The indigenous highlanders were resistant to colonial rule, but when the French relinquished their claim to the country in 1953, they reported that the highlanders had been subdued. One can only imagine what that entailed.
After the French left, the dominant Khmer culture tried to impose its hegemony over this area, with relocations of tribals to the lowlands. The government tried to create rubber plantations in the region with their forced labor, which was met with heated resistance and the effort was abandoned. Resentments created during this period led to the minorities’ later sympathies with the Khmer Rouge.
During the American-Indochinese war, the area was bombed by the U.S., as parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail ran through potions of the park. Resentments created by the Cambodian government’s heavy-handed efforts led to the minorities’ later sympathies with the Khmer Rouge. Lon Nol pulled all troops out in 1970, effectively giving the area over to the Khmer rouge.
By 1975, life under the Khmer rouge had become intolerable in the northeast and a majority of the tribes moved to adjacent Vietnam and Laos to escape the brutalities.
The area was subsequently liberated by the Vietnamese in 1978, forcing more highlanders into Laos, but eventually pacifying the area.
Returning minorities chose to relocate along the area’s major rivers, the Sesan and Sekong, for security reasons. Over time the population has been pushing back into the forests, returning to their traditional rotational swidden agriculture, but with the added dimension of servicing markets, now available as Cambodia develops its infrastructure.
Wine vessel used in ceremony. Photo by: Greg McCann.
Due to the difficulty of this expedition, Greg was vacillating on committing to the trip, but my continued interest spurred him into making the necessary arrangements. I met Greg in Phnom Penh on January 16th and the following day we took the 12-hour bus trip to Ban Lung, Ratanakiri’s capital town and gateway to Virachey. The following morning we met Su, the Lao minority ranger, who would accompany us, handling translation duties. Having never been to Yak Yeuk, Su could not be considered our guide. That job fell to the three Kavet porters who met us later down on the river. After shelling out money for fees, transport, food and support, we proceeded to the market where Su provisioned us for the trek.
Rice, instant noodles, fresh vegetables, fresh pork for the first half and dried fish/canned sardines for the second, made up the bulk of provisions. Greg added 2 liters of whiskey and I made sure there was enough instant coffee. Once geared up, we had a hired truck carry the three of us north to the river town of Vuen Sai on the Sesan. Here we met our porters and after beers and lunch, filled a pair of long wooden canoes and headed up river and into the O Lai Lai tributary. We reached the Kavet village of Khong Ngok.
Our first night was to be spent in the village, staying at the house of one of our porters.
Included in our evening was the village elder (6 years my junior), considered the village ‘magic man.’ Extended family collected to view the odd pair of barang that had arrived in their midst. Greg was excited about the night’s ceremony and meal, seeing opportunities to collect stories and additional material for his thesis. Apparently, a useful tool for anthropologists is alcohol. We carried in 2 cases of beer, as a sign of friendship and camaraderie, but also to set the stories in motion.
Rice wine, shared from a communal vessel is integral to life in this region and is included ceremonially. We were all called to squat around the 2-foot tall jar. While rubbing the jug’s rim with bits of straw, we simultaneously called out our requests for luck and protection from the spirits. Individually, we drew a mouthful of wine from the special bamboo straw and stepped out from under the house, spraying the wine to the ground, followed by another litany of incantations.
Sa-a-Na Falls: where do they lead? Nobody knows. Photo by: Greg McCann.
A ceremonial chicken was then sacrificed for the occasion by 3 whacks to the head, with the bulk of the bird going into the stew pot. As the beer and wine flowed, so did the questions from Greg and stories from the Kavet. Su did his best to translate the Kavet into English, with neither being his native tongue. Apparently he could handle seven languages to some extent. Stories were spun of tigers kidnapping maidens, man-eating dragons, and the powers that reside in the mountains that lay ahead.
Most of the minorities maintain villages along the rivers, with paddy fields for rice created behind on the floodplain. Beyond is the community forest and with the increase in market access due to the ongoing road building, increased pressure from logging and hunting has occurred. The people are moving away from a subsistence lifestyle and crop farming of cashew and cassava now leads to additional forest loss.
Our first few hours of the trek were through this mixed use landscape, but by afternoon we had entered healthy looking forest. But the buzz of chainsaws was ongoing, with rough tracks cut to haul out the cut timber. Late in the day, I was stunned as we walked out into a large recent clearing, still smoldering, with large, charred stumps the only remains of the forest. A handful of primitive huts were scattered amongst the devastation. Each hut had clots of filthy, naked children along with foraging pigs and chickens. These families all had moved from the village we started our day from, probably maintaining a home on the river as well. Our porter, Jung’s brother had a piece of this action.
We hung our hammocks that night along a small stream, beyond this destruction. While Greg and I bathed in 6 inches of water, the guys quickly had plates of steaming rice and pork for us. All felt right with the world, being bathed, fed and tucked in for the night.
Half asleep and wrapped up in my hammock by 8pm, I somehow recognized a bird call worth exploring. I pulled myself out of the hammock and cued up the Oriental Bay Owl on my recorder and wandered off into the night, moving delicately as I was wearing flip-flops instead of my boots. Earlier in the day, we found a “cobra,” a 6-foot long serpent identified as such by our ranger. So with that in mind, though still not quite fully awake, I wandered off playing the owl’s voice. Nothing responded. I gave up after half an hour and climbed into my hammock, arranging my layers for maximum warmth.
Quickly nodding off, given the day’s exhaustion, I was again pulled from sleep by this odd call. Once again, up and into the dark I went and again, no joy. Defeated, I retired.
Moths congregating in Virachey. Photo by: Greg McCann.
The bird called a few times predawn, with a bit of extra phrasing. I couldn’t be mobilized. Over breakfast and with the clarifying aid of caffeine, it dawned on me that I had totally blown the call identification and had missed an opportunity to call in Blyth’s frogmouth, a truly exotic large mouthed nightbird that I’ve only seen once in 6 years here. Only one day out and the forest was showing me how little I know.
Our second day had us reaching the foothills, with a few logging tracks and sounds of chainsaws still in the air. But by mid-afternoon, signs of human activity had all but disappeared. We were trying to follow an old trail, overgrown, but one could see the signs of bush knives work from past seasons. Cut saplings had re-sprouted, these giving the best clues of previous human passage. The signs were subtle, but our guides managed to keep us moving up the trail.
My heart soared as we climbed into a cathedral forest of stately, white-trunked Lagostromia, which created a tall canopy with little mid or understory growth. It was pure magic. Unfortunately, after we reached the ridgetop, we passed into a new habitat of tall bamboo clusters, with 6-inch diameter stems reaching 75 feet or more. Again, a stunning landscape, but with age and winds, the canes fall into an impenetrable jumble.
For the next 2 days we fought against the forest. Large tree falls would bring down tangles of vines and smaller trees with them. The Kavet would hack our way around these and usually would be able to quickly regain the trail, but often they would wander off in different directions looking for signs, while Greg and I stood around resting in our sweat. Our guides were all at least 6 inches shorter than me, so their resultant trail-cutting yielded a tunnel requiring a stooped gait, while bobbing and weaving from hazards.
Scrambling over logs, extracting thorns and calling for help when the razor-barbed flagellum of a rattan vine snagged your clothes or flesh, was ongoing. If you attempted to bull your way through the rattan tangles, they left you bleeding and by day 3, I had discarded my light, quick-dry trousers, as they were in tatters. The only compensation to the abuse from that vine, was culinary, as the porters harvested it daily and we ate the roasted pith, not unlike well-done asparagus.
January is the height of the dry season: the biological activity is reduced, with few fruits and flowers, a rather meager dawn chorus of birds and fewer pests. Leeches were only found in moist areas along streams and mosquitoes rare. One exception to this was tiny ticks. I managed to find a nest of them, and they found me. My legs and groin looked like Seurat’s pointillism in red. No one else got hammered like I did. After that I broke out the DEET.
Dinner in the jungle was consistently delicious. Photo by: Greg McCann.
We found a survey marker indicating the park boundary. Impressive was the fact that we had hiked for the last day and a half without signs of any recent human activity in the community forest. I don’t expect this to last, but it was heartening to see a healthy buffer around this section of the park.
The end of our fourth day of trekking had us camping along a larger river that allowed a complete immersive bath and a bit of a swim. The Kavet set a net, hauling 2 dozen 6-inch fish, destined for a soup or skewered on bamboo—sweet and delicate.
One of the more interesting meals occurred when an edible plant was found at our campsite. Leaves were gathered and steamed in a meter long section of green bamboo, tossed on the fire. Chiles, garlic and a can of sardines were added. The mix was then mashed using a long stick. A thick, green slurry was poured out over our rice. Minority cooking at its best.
We broke out onto the Yak Yeuk grasslands late on the 5th afternoon. After days of claustrophobic tropical forest interior, reaching our destination felt like a prize. The border mountains, now in view are really just big hills with the highest peaks, such as the powerful spirit mountain Haling-Halang barely reaching 1200 meters. The scene was a mosaic of grasslands with ribbons of riparian corridors bringing the forest down from the highest ridges of the hills.
As happy as I was to be finally here, I had a dilemma on my hands. The grasslands are a bit less than 800 meters, which would hold a few birds not found in the lowlands. But, just a couple of miles away, the border peaks would be expected to be covered in a montane forest habitat with a greater number of birds of interest, species that have yet to be recorded in Cambodia. This was the fantasy that drove this expedition for me and kept me plodding along. I understood that those higher elevations would require a full day of cutting and climbing. The porters had succeeded in guiding us to this remote spot. Now I was debating, whether to push one or two to continue on with me. In the end I chose to accept spending 3 nights at Yak Yeuk and work the area as much as I could for the next few days.
It was the right decision; the men had worked hard, climbing with heavy loads and clearing our way. And, as it turned out, we were running low on food. We began to be served a watery rice porridge at meals, which was their way of stretching the supply. Greg and I were not informed of this situation until a few days later.
Mustached barbet. Illustration by: Sharpe, RB (1891).
Once I gave myself permission to remain near the grasslands, I was able to indulge in enjoying this remote piece of nature. The birds kept me busy, adding slaty-backed forktail (Enicurus schistaceus) and yellow-vented green pigeon (Treron seimundi) to my personal Cambodia list. The one fruiting tree I did manage to find was a 10-minute walk from camp and drew in great hornbill (Buceros bicornis), mustached barbet (Megalaima incognita), Asian fairy bluebird (Irena puella) and a variety of bulbuls. It is also where I discovered the pigeon, which was known in Cambodia from one record in Bokor NP. Although we heard gibbons singing most mornings, this was the one spot where I managed to watch a troop for a few minutes.
The area had fresh dung and many tracks of gaur, the largest bovid. On one occasion I spooked a large mammal presumably of this species. I find myself wondering what are the possibilities of finding any large predators here, (do I dare whisper the word tiger) as the area sees limited human pressure, there is an ample supply of prey, and there appears to be some remote corners in these hills that might give some sort of protection and refuge from hunters. No sign of elephant was encountered, though I was told that 2 herds remain somewhere in the park. And any talk of rhinoceros is probably only that.
I could have easily spent days exploring the area, just to relish the isolation and respite from worldly concerns. Sitting silently listening to the forest, the only motivation to move often being a song I could not identify. A meditation on the natural world when human presence is minimal; why do so few people care about protecting places like this? Bittersweet.
We broke camp after 3 nights and began our decent. It was different this time. We knew the trail and it had been cleared a bit on our ascent. Greg and I were kept in the dark regarding the porters’ concern about our food supplies. Given Cambodia’s history, food insecurity is a real issue for many Cambodians. The Kavet, sporting lighter packs, knowing we had to shorten our planned return if they wanted to be fed and eager to be with their people took off on a pace that we had not experienced. They danced down the trail, with Greg and me struggling to keep them in sight. On our own, we would still struggle with recognizing the trail. Su always brought up the rear to keep an eye on us.
In Phnom Penh, I use a good mountain bike to weave through city traffic, jumping curbs, running lights and challenging vehicles at intersections. I liken it to a video game, with unexpected threats appearing from any direction, as traffic can be quite mayhemic.
Trying to travel through the forest at the pace set by the porters felt much the same. If you focused on protecting your eyes and face, there were frequent vines to lasso your ankle, lurching you forward. Each time some part of my anatomy took a hit, I repeated the mantra “way to take one for the team!” Somehow that kept up my spirits.
Cut tree will soon be on its way to Vietnam. Photo by: Greg McCann.
We passed our last camp during the approach early in the afternoon and it was decided that we would continue a bit farther. We finally made camp in semi-darkness. Both Greg and I were exhausted and angry that we had been on a forced march all day. We lectured Su on how the trip should be managed and it was then that we learned of the impending rice shortage. I suspect that it didn’t help that the whiskey was gone and the guides had smoked up their supply of cigarettes.
Given the exploratory nature of this trek and the fact that none of us had experience provisioning such, our anger passed with the first, cooling steps into the stream that evening. We were at their mercy, so we just tried to go along with the program. And that’s how we began the next day. We accepted the pace and off we went and went and went, until it was too dark to see. After a brief bit of back and forth between the guides, it was apparent that they decided a short cut was needed. We then donned our headlamps and kept stumbling down the mountain for another 2 hours. I had to focus on the trail immediately ahead of me and this tended to keep my malevolent thoughts at bay.
I was exhausted and disoriented to the point that when we walked out into the site of the new plantations we had passed through 8 days ago, I failed to recognize where we were. I felt a mixture of relief at getting off our feet, but disappointment at not having a forested camp with stream. We had to throw tarps onto the bare ground near the huts, trying to avoid the pig shit and chicken droppings. Another sacrificial chicken was dispatched and we ended the evening drinking rice wine and a surprisingly rich tasting chicken soup was served. Both Greg and I dropped 10mg of Valium to insure sleep.
We were up early and needed to visit a nearby house to meet, talk (and drink), avoiding another house en route. The occupants in the forbidden house were trying to exorcise some demons that had brought illness and suffering on their household. It was 6:30 in the morning and we were led straight to a jug of rice wine and a gang that had obviously been at it all night.
This was to be another opportunity for Greg to hear more tales of spirits and ghosts of this landscape. A horrific shriek came from the direction of their afflicted neighbors. It was quickly pointed out that a pig had been sacrificed to appease the angry local deities causing the household’s misery. I got up from the wine jug and tried a circuitous route, feigning picture taking in various directions to approach the troubled abode. My attempt was noticed and a couple of men began shouting at me. In no way was I to be permitted visiting that family. I guess that I had the potential to bring down the wrath of their spirits on every household.
Forest clearance in the park buffer zone. We heard gibbons and hornbills coming from beyond in the morning. Photo by: Greg McCann.
By mid-morning we managed to organize our slightly inebriated team and head out for the last major day of walking. We had to cross a small river at the clearings edge, having a choice of wading or balancing on a log. Greg chose to get wet, but under the spell of rice gone wrong, I climbed the log. I usually freeze in these situations, so this was a challenge to myself. No problem, sailed across. Lesson learned: carry a hip flask for all high-wire crossings.
Sa-a-Na Falls. Photo by: Greg McCann.
Young men on motos had just arrived at river’s edge, planning on heading into the forest beyond to continue cutting. Greg’s hiking mojo had been blown by the liquor and he wanted Su to negotiate rides for us. All went, save for Su and me, as there weren’t enough bikes.
I rationalized that another day’s walk would be good for me, but I knew the taste of resentment and it sat in my mouth. We were all worn and frayed from our days in the field. I wanted to be done, as well. After an hour walking, bikes approached. The same boys stopped, knowing that they’d get more money and off we went. We were dumped in a Kavet village across the O Lai Lai River from our porter, Niem’s village, where we’d spend the night. We were greeted by a group of men, with Greg in the middle, all smoking, drinking beer and talking about where we had been.
After the freedom of solitude in the mountains, I now felt fidgety and bored with the endless banter. But still being tied to Greg I had little choice but remain, as no one ever really had much of a plan. Something would just reach a critical mass and off we would go.
When we got to the river, we waded across, as it was quite a span. The river was alive with fishing, and laundry, and bathing and children playing, buffaloes cooling off. Greg and I reached the opposite shore and stripped down for a swim: such pleasure in getting wet. We then sat and watched everyone for the next hour. Celebrating where we were and where we had been.
We finished up in another riverside string of houses, ending at a shabby, unfinished house with multiple generations living there. We were called in off the road by a rowdy group of drinkers, who wanted to share. Greg and I obliged with a social sip, then excused ourselves, but we lost Su for a couple of hours, as he was in the thrall of a couple flirtatious young women. We continued a bit farther, ending at the shabby, unfinished house of Niem. A stream of curiosity seekers kept wandering in for a stare, then quietly moving on. Rice wine, chicken in a pot and a slab of beer. Stories into the night, but I retired to the upstairs floor and checked out early.
The next morning, I performed my social duties before I could find a bush for relief. An aging matron called me to sit for a crank on the wine jug, again well before 7. I had my bins with me so, I continued off into the paddy fields and forest remnants for an hour or so of birding, returning to the house for my dose of rice. We then packed and headed down to the Sesan, an hour away. Two boats were waiting for us, ferrying back to Vuen Sai. Thinking the trip was over, I was startled when two critically endangered red-headed vultures sailed over the boat landing in Vuen Sai. We indulged in our first cold beers in almost 2 weeks before our car had us back in Ban Lung by mid-afternoon.
Unidentified insect on forest floor. Photo by: Greg McCann.
We were able to settle into a lovely lodge on wooded grounds, where I did as little as possible for the next day and a half, save writing some notes, drinking some gin and enjoying some of the guests at the lodge. I was pleased to meet 3 guests; a photographer, a journalist on assignment from National Geographic and an environmental lawyer all separately interested in the scourge of dam building and the resultant damage to the local environment and communities. All, hopefully, able to bring needed attention to the rapid destruction that development is wreaking on the whole region.
Trips such as this one are head-spinners for me, as one sheds so many of the comforts of our world to enter a rapidly disappearing one of simpler people tied, intimately, to their landscape. The modern world has buffered that relationship to the point where most only know it from TV or computer games. They talk of nature deficit disorder. A trip like ours is my response, my attempt to get back to a sense of organic roots.
Not that it makes things easier. As I expand my experiences in the world, my data set grows and I keep needing to re-evaluate my relationship to the world. Southeast Asia is in the midst of a maelstrom of change, trying to come to grips with it is an ongoing challenge and adventure, if you so choose.
Postscript: Once back home with my computer, I retraced our trip on Google Earth. There is a useful tool called a ruler, which measures out straight line distances between points. I measured the distance between the Sesan starting point and Yak Yeuk and repeated this several times, because I could not believe that our trip took us all of 11 miles. Obviously we weren’t going in a straight line.
TIGERS? CAMERA TRAPS COULD TELL.
by: Greg McCann
Howie asks: “do I dare whisper tiger?” Our guides said that they saw a 3-meter long adult tiger in pursuit of game near a ridgeline about 3 hours south of Mera Mountain, a golden hill that contains a cave which, legend has it, served as the unwanted home of a young woman named Mera who was kidnapped by a tiger. Our guides say that they saw the tiger in August 2011, and as Howie states in his report, human disturbance in the area is low, there is an abundance of game, and there are plenty of mountains where cats can hide. Jeung, Neap and Neam, our guides, say that clouded leopard are also present, and that ten years ago villagers spotted a rhinoceros not far from where the tiger was found. The “last” Javan rhino of Indochina was shot for its horn in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, in 2011, about 150 kilometers from Virachey in a smaller area with much higher human disturbance. There are so many unexplored canyons and mountains that form the wild and unmarked border of Laos and Cambodia in Virachey that one cannot rule out the possibility that a few hang on. Nobody knows.
I hope to fill in some of the wildlife data gap in Virachey with a 2014 camera-trapping expedition to Haling-Halang, a 1,200-meter massif that straddles the international border. This mountain is a one-week walk from the nearest village and is the source of four major rivers. I have talked to two people who have been there –both Kavet highlanders- and they say that when they last visited it in the late 1980s Haling-Halang swarmed with tigers, leopards, elephants and bears. Large “spirit leeches” apparently fall from the trees on this mountain and cause bleeding that is difficult to stop, and the best bamboo for rice wine drinking straws grows on this mountain (no doubt this will be an added incentive for our guides!) Haling-Halang is also considered to be the most powerful God in the park, inspiring fear in many of the villagers and exuding such power that aircraft cannot (so they say) pass over it.
Jackson Frechette, an American PhD student who studies gibbons in the Voen Sai Protected Forest adjacent to Virachey and whose research is sponsored by Conservation International, saw a Siamese crocodile in the O Lai Lai River last year, and a villager actually caught one and claimed that many young escaped his hunt. A former ranger claims that there is a “Siamese croc pool” near the headwaters of the O Lai Lai close to Haling-Halang. No doubt, surprises await deep in Virachey.
My plan is to place as many motion-triggered camera-traps as I can raise money to buy and place them on and around Haling-Halang in January 2014, and then pay a team to go back and retrieve them a couple months later. If you would like to support the expedition to Haling-Halang, you can do so here: http://savevirachey.wordpress.com/
Stick insect prefers hat. Photo by: Greg McCann.
Mera Mountain. Photo by: Greg McCann.
Our guide Jeung (left) and Kohng Ngok ‘magic man’ June (right). Photo by: Greg McCann.
Fishing in the O Tan Gnow River in the Yak Yeuk Grasslands. Photo by: Greg McCann.
The crew, from left: Neam, Jeung, Su, Neap. Photo by: Greg McCann.
Howie’s Bird List from the expedition (163 species total):
Grey peacock pheasant
Chinese pond heron
Crested serpent eagle
Yellow-vented green pigeon
Green Imperial pigeon
Vernal hanging parrot
Banded bay cuckoo
Collared scops owl
Asian barred owlet
Great eared nightjar
Asian palm swift
Little green bee-eater
Oriental pied hornbill
Grey-capped pygmy woodpecker
Great slaty woodpecker
Bay woodpecker on call but possibly rufous
Black and red broadbill
Bar-winged flycatcher shrike
Greater racket-tailed drongo
Lesser racket-tailed drongo
Asian paradise flycatcher
Southern jungle crow
Red-billed blue magpie
Van Hasselt’s sunbird
Asian fairy bluebird
Eurasian tree sparrow
Common hill myna
Siberian blue robin
White-throated rock thrush
Blue whistling thrush
Hainan blue flycatcher
Tickell’s blue flycatcher
Asian brown flycatcher
Grey-headed canary flycatcher
Himalayan black bulbul
Asian house martin
White-browed scimitar babbler
Indochinese bush lark
Pale-legged leaf warbler
(05/03/2012) Abandoned by NGOs and the World Bank, carved out for rubber plantations and mining by the Cambodian government, spiraling into a chaos of poaching and illegal logging, and full of endangered species and never-explored places, Virachey National Park may be the world’s greatest park that has been written off by the international community. But a new book by explorer and PhD student, Greg McCann, hopes to change that. Entitled Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journey to the Green Corridor, the book highlights expeditions by McCann into parts of Virachey that have rarely been seen by outsiders and have never been explored scientifically, including rare grasslands that once housed herds of Asian elephants, guar, and Sambar deer, before poachers drove them into hiding, and faraway mountains with rumors of tigers and mainland Javan rhinos.
(12/18/2012) Some 126 new species were described in Asia’a Mekong region last year, notes a new report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
(09/27/2012) Two weeks after an environmental journalist was found murdered in the trunk of his car, another journalist has been brutally attacked in Cambodia. Ek Sokunthy with the local paper Ta Prum says he was beaten in his home by three assailants by a pistol and a stick. The attack follows swiftly after the high-profile murder of 44-year-old forest journalist Hang Serei Oudom.
(09/13/2012) Less than five months after high-profile forest activist, Chut Wutty, was killed in Cambodia, an environmental journalist, Hang Serei Oudom, has been found slain in the trunk of his car, possibly murdered with an ax, reports the AFP. Oudum, who worked at the local paper Vorakchun Khmer Daily, was known for writing stories on epidemic of illegal logging in Cambodia, often linking the crime to business people and politicians. The car and body were found in a cashew nut plantation in Ratanakiri province, an area rife with logging.
(08/06/2012) Four economic land concessions have been cancelled in Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest, known as the largest intact lowland forest in Southeast Asia, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The economic land concessions, totaling over 40,000 hectares, would have been used for rubber plantations.
(07/16/2012) Scientists have discovered a new snake species in the biodiverse rainforests of the Cardamom Mountains, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI). The new reddish-hued serpent has been named after its country of origin by native herpetologist Neang Thy: the Cambodian kukri (Oligodon kampucheaensis).
(06/27/2012) A month-and-a-half after Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, declared a moratorium on on new economic land concessions, the government has announced four new concessions, each located in protected areas. Economic land concessions have come under the microscope in Cambodia after large-scale protests by local people and the recent murder of forest activist Chut Wutty. Critics say the concessions, which last year totaled two million hectares (4.9 million acres) sold off to foreign corporations, have resulted in local land conflict and environmental degradation.
(06/19/2012) On May 24th, 2011, forest activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, were gunned down in an ambush in the Brazilian state of Pará. A longtime activist, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva had made a name for himself for openly criticizing illegal logging in the state which is rife with deforestation. The killers even cut off the ears of the da Silvas, a common practice of assassins in Brazil to prove to their employers that they had committed the deed. Less than a year before he was murdered, da Silva warned in a TEDx Talk, “I could get a bullet in my head at any moment…because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers.”
(05/07/2012) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced today that Cambodia would be temporarily suspending new economic land concessions and would revoke any concessions from companies involved in illegal logging, the evictions of locals or land-grabbing. The announcement comes two week after the high-profile death of local forest activist, Chut Wutty, who was shot and killed by military police while investigating illegal logging with two journalists.