April 28, 2006

Survey of the Phnom Bakan Plateau of the Cardamom Mountains

Between April 1-12, the BP-supported Cambodian Turtle Conservation Team conducted surveys in the plateau region of the Cardamom Mountains.  The following is a brief report by team-leader Sitha Som highlighting the survey?s findings:

We have three main methods used in our project: 1) formal and informal interview following a set questionnaire, 2) live-trapping using bait, and 3) tortoise timed searches. For this trip we used only timed search and interviews with two guides for background turtle and tortoise information.

After a 12-days survey in the forest, we found some interesting results. We did timed search both in the days and nights in the streams and evergreen forest to look for big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum), and impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa) and other species. We looked in some very good and suitable streams at a very high altitude and often in very wet weather. To look for big-headed turtle we looked under overhanging rocks and in small pools in the streams.  In deeper pools we used a scooping net, but we did not catch any turtles. We also found that in the stream there were no fish or crabs which we think is not good as they are typically food for big-headed turtle. Also the streams had a muddy bottom which is also not suitable for this turtle species. So we acknowledged that in these streams there should probably be no big-headed turtles, because even the guide who had been a hunter for years in that area didn?t know about this species.

According to our interview with a guide with us, the montane forests are rich with impressed tortoise and to prove this we also found one fresh eaten shell both carapace and plastron of this species at the hunter camp. The shell was completely burnt for food. We also did timed searches in the forest and we found that all of the forest are very good for this species such as high altitude, full of food (mushroom), good places to hide, and wet, cool weather. We also found a pile of impressed tortoise?s dung in front of hiding hole under the root of a big tree. The guide said that this species should be around but we did not find tortoises in the limited time we had to search.

During our timed search we also found two adult and one juvenile Asian Leaf Turtles ? Cyclemys atripons - along the flowing steams.  We had thought this species should not be in such a high altitude like that, but we successfully found it and it appeared to be quite common. We also found one shell of this species at a hunter?s camp which was hunted for food.

Furthermore, the survey also found a lot of frog species that some of them were identified to new species in Central Cardamom Protected Forest as well as in Cambodia.

Since our research started we concluded that one serious threat to tortoise and turtle is that people use their trained hunting dog for finding concealed animals such as turtles and tortoises. But according our observation and guide, in this area hunters don?t bring their dog along because they are afraid their dogs can step on their cable snares and converted land-mine snares. So we think that even though turtles are sometimes caught for food in the forest by hunters, it is not serious threat like using dogs for finding animals and that because of this there should still be Impressed Tortoises in the area.

We recognized that the area is being threatened by poachers that use a lot of effective equipment to snare preferred animals. So in this case the government rangers should take immediate patrol to stop this activities, otherwise, our animals in this area will be extinct in the short future.

The project has been running since 2004 and is funded by the BP Conservation Programme focusing on the freshwater turtle and tortoise research in Central Cardamom Protected Forest.  In 2006, the project has been expanded to include the whole of southwest Cambodia.

For more information contact:

Mr. Sitha Som
Cambodia Turtle Conservation Team