The melodious songs of families of endangered monkeys ring out over the jungle near Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex – a sign of ecological regeneration decades after the hunt for decimated wildlife at this site.
The first pair of rare hooded gibbons were released in 2013 as part of a joint program by conservation group Wildlife Alliance, the Forest Service and the Apsara Authority – a government agency that manages the 12th-century ruins.
The gibbon duo named Baray and Saranick were born to parents rescued from the wildlife trade and produced offspring a year later.
“We have now released four different pairs of gibbon in Angkor forest and they have bred and now seven babies have been born,” Wildlife Alliance Rescue and Care Program director Nick Marx told AFP.
“We are restoring Cambodia’s natural heritage to its most beautiful cultural heritage.”
Gibbons are one of the world’s most threatened primate families, while the helmeted gibbon is listed as vulnerable.
According to Marx, his team saves about 2,000 animals a year and many more will soon call the Angkor jungle home.
There is hope that once the baby gibbons reach sexual maturity in around five to eight years, they will also mate and mate.
“What we hope for the future is to create a sustainable population of the animals… that we have released here in the amazing forest of Angkor,” Marx said.
– “Great Victory” –
Cambodian authorities have welcomed the gibbon baby boom that began in 2014.
“It means a big victory for our project,” said Chou Radina of the Apsara Authority, adding that tourists could now see large hornbills flying over Angkor Wat in addition to gibbons.
The program has released more than 40 other animals and birds, including silver langurs, muntjac deer, smooth-headed otters, leopard cats, civet cats, wreathed hornbills and green peafowl.
All were rescued from traffickers, donated or born in captivity at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary near Phnom Penh.
The Angkor Archaeological Park – which contains the ruins of various capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries – has some of Cambodia’s oldest rainforests.
It is also the UK’s most popular tourist destination.
Since Angkor Wat was declared a World Heritage Site in 1992, its jungle, which covers more than 6,500 hectares, has benefited from increased legal and physical protection.
It is hoped that wildlife viewing will also attract the interest of local and foreign tourists and boost conservation education efforts.
– Ongoing threats –
Rampant poaching, habitat loss from deforestation, agriculture and dam construction have robbed many wildlife from Cambodia’s rainforests.
Last year, authorities removed 61,000 snare traps, Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said, adding that the government had launched a campaign to ban hunting and eating of game meat.
But widespread poverty, even before the pandemic, left many households with no choice but to keep hunting so their families could eat protein.
Animals are also hunted for traditional medicine and kept as pets.
According to Global Forest Watch, Cambodia lost 2.6 million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2021, a 30 percent decline since 2000.
Commercial interests are trumping conservation efforts in some areas — the Phnom Tamao Zoo and wildlife rescue center are threatened by a shadowy rezoning development plan, Marx said.
Back in Siem Reap – the gateway town to Angkor Wat – villager Moeurn Sarin buys bananas, watermelons, rambutan and fish at the market to feed the helmeted gibbon families and otters.
“We’re excited to protect these animals,” said the 64-year-old, adding that he likes watching the gibbons tree swing.
“In the future, these animals will have babies for the young generation to see.”
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