Just thought I'd post this Indiegogo project I just found out about (via Greg, the resident Travelfish Virachey expert . The organisers are raising funds to set up a series of camera traps that will be used to prove there are endangered species (tigers, elephants, rhinos, leopards and friends) to try and use that as leverage to get some serious protection happening -- not before time!
The project's funding requirements are pretty clear and so I'd say if you've got an interest in this kind of thing, take a look and get your wallet out if it appeals -- I did
You can read about the full project here.
Thank you very much for posting this! My friend Andreas has been operating the Indiegogo fundraising site while I am responsible for fundraising through a new NGO that some other friends and I have started up called Habitat ID. Andreas and I, as well as a professional birder and a man from US Fish & Wildlife, will be trekking to the deep interior of Virachey right up on the Laos border to a place called the Haling-Halang mountains. Wildlife surveys have never been done on this massif, and villagers say that tigers and elephants (some even say rhinos) still live in this remote area. This project will take one year, as we'll be leaving between 12-15 (hopefully more, depending on how much money we can raise -and there is only 2.5 days left on the Indiegogo page!) camera traps in strategic locations up there in the hopes of proving the existence of rare mammals.
What do you we want to do with this info? 1. We'd like to show it to the Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Dept. to try and motivate them to devote more funding for ranger patrols. 2. We will share it with some of the big conservation NGOs to try and lure them back to park (which they left when the World Bank pulled out in 2008; the WB left because the Cambodian gov. announced that they were allowing an Australian mining company- to explore for minerals throughout about 90% of the park. I'd like to note that I am in touch with the helicopter pilot who flew them in on all of their runs and they did not find anything worth the effort of bulldozing roads in to get -and that explains why, more than 5 years later, no mining has occurred within the park boundaries). Where was I? And 3. We can use these photos to apply for grants from various agencies once Habitat ID is a 501c3 company (pending approval right now), and if we can get some grants then perhaps we can help hire some extra rangers ourselves and pay for their patrols.
For the past couple of years I have been trying to help promote the park, because national parks don't pay for themselves and the authorities need to see that there is some economic viability in the park's existence. Park ranger Sou and I are also working on an educational initiative, collecting stories about the spirit mountains and the grasslands within Virachey and writing them up in Khmer and in English. We plan to print a few copies of this in Ban Lung in January and donate them to village reading centers in the villages along the Sesan River. Several villages have a hut or two that are for studying and reading, and we'd like to have our booklets in there so that young tribal kids can read them and so that tourists can read them as well. Many of these stories are known only to a handful of elderly "magic men" (shamans) who live in the villages.
I am getting really excited about this upcoming trek. A "magic man" recently told Sou that there is a hidden lake in the Haling Halang mountains. I am guessing that it is more like a pond rather than a lake, as a "lake" per se would probably show up on sattelite imagery. I saw two good sized ponds on my trek to the Yak Yeuk Grasslands earlier this year and these don't show up on Google Earth, so perhaps there is a pond up there. We'll be looking for it and if we find it a couple of cameras will be tied up there. It will take about 5 days of trekking (one-way) from the nearest village on the Sesan to reach the foot of Haling-Halang.
Anyway, Andreas has been really proactive with fundraising on his site and I urge anyone who can donate within the next 2 days to do so there if this project interests you. If that timeframe doesn't work for you, then there is our Habitat ID site. We need more camera traps!
You can also follow Habitat ID on Facebook where I am currently in the process of listing the animals that we hope to find (for starters: Indochinese tigers, Leopards, Clouded leopards, Jungle cat, Fishing cat (maybe), Leopard cat, and Asian Golden cat. There is also a slim chance that Kouprey hang on in those remote mountains, and possible even one or two Javan rhinoceros -villagers say one was spotted about 10 years ago).
Once again, I want to thank Somtam2000 for posting!
Sorry, but anyone contributing to this fund is throwing their money away. It isn't that these guys are corrupt but more that until the govt of Cambodia stops wholesaling large tracts of land called concessions to either foreign businesses or governments, no natural resource survey will change anything. Money is the new Buddha in Cambodia, and your well-intentioned money will help to pave the road to hell. It's truly sad; the most they can do is manage a shots of flora and fauna that soon will disappear. I love youthful ardor and enthusiasm, but I love my money just as much.
#3 phuphum has been a member since 22/10/2011. Posts: 49
Phumphum, I understand where you are coming from, but at the end of the day, do any of Southeast Asia's national parks really get adequate protection? And are any of them really safe from large scale development projects? I think the answer is no.
Like I said, I understand your position. The economic land concessions (ELCs) are a cancer devouring what's left of Cambodia's natural heritage. That's true. I have hope for Virachey because the terrain is so mountainous that it's not suitable for agricultural development. The areas that are (mostly in sections along the Vietnamese border) have already been sold to Vietnamese and Khmer rubber companies. But there remains a very large mountainous core of the park which, if hunting and logging can be at least reduced (I don't believe those activities can ever be totally stopped) can support quite a bit of wildlife. Furthermore, the 55,000 hectare Voen Sai-Siem Pang Protected Forest (VSSPPF) borders Virachey to the south (we passed through it on our trek back in January) and that place is full of gibbons, gaur, hornbills, and other animals -this is a kind of extension of the national park. On top of that, there is a 100,000 rugged, undeveloped mountainous area in Laos directly to the north called Nam Kong Provincial Protected Forest (NKPPA). And on top of that, there is Dong Amphon National Park in Laos that connects to the Dragon's Tail area of Virachey, and Chu Mom Ray NP in Vietnam which also touches Virachey (I acknowledge that these last two parks -Dong Amphon and Chu Mom Ray are probably badly degraded and their connectivity with Virachey is today probably limited -however, VSSPPF and NKPPA really do serve as substantial extension of wildlife habitat for Virachey). So my point is that there is still a lot left to save and there are still animals in there.
I fully admit that the current situation regarding the protected areas and the ELCs is depressing and discouraging, but like I said in my first reply, mining is not happening. Now consider that they've already sold what they can grow rubber on. They also have a lot more easier-to-grab land in the flatter regions of Ratanakiri, particularly around Lomphat and on down to Mondulkiri. Prey Lang is also a lot flatter and easier to wreck. This all sucks, big time, but it makes me think that maybe all that will or can be left of Cambodia's natural heritage will be the steep rugged areas of the Cardamoms and Virachey. I really hope that does not turn out to be the case, but in the very least I think there is some hope for Virachey.
Phuphum quit being so negative, I think it's a good idea, where would we be if we didn't try anything to better this world.
I contributed a little. Why don't you stay in a three star hotel for a night and give them a donation too.
What the hell you can't take it with you.
Gilbert, if you think it is a good idea, the give some money on my behalf too. As for 3 star hotels you have an uninformed opionion about my life style. I live rurally with my Cambodian wife and 2 children. Our home has no electricity, limited running water and is overflowing with love. I've no need for luxury, in fact I would find it stultifying. Yes, I'm negative, living in Cambodia for 16 years with your eyes wide open can do that to even the most ardent idealist, but in fact I consider myself a realist. I have tried and will continue to try to make the world a better place-one person at a time. And no I can't take it with me, but I can leave it to someone who will use it well.
#6 phuphum has been a member since 22/10/2011. Posts: 49
I apologize for the crack about staying in 3 star hotels , you know what I thought. It's just sometimes
I just hope a little sun will shine for everybody.
I will keep you posted if you want and share any info on how the project is doing when I find out.
And I will be sure to post a trip report after we do the trek in January. In the meantime, I'm doing a series of video podcasts about Virachey and our project. I probably made a few errors when I talked about history. Please correct me if you spot any (that is, if you feel bored enough to watch the video!) and I'll correct them in the next interview.
No worries Gilbert and apology accepted. I just feel that everyone should know who they are talking to and admittedly I don't fit the norm of interested traveler posting on this forum. However, I just returned from a family vacation to Sen Monorom and feel even more justified in my pessimism. The Chinese are planting on the mountainsides with fir trees for pulp in order to bolster paper production which they have ravaged in their own country by deforestation. Of course none of this could happen without the consent of powerful Cambodian politicians who place personal greed above national duty. My sadness is not only related to nature but to my children who will inherit this mess. I am old and can die anywhere, but my children deserve a future.
#9 phuphum has been a member since 22/10/2011. Posts: 49
I am sorry to hear that, everywhere I have been lately it's been the same complaint.The Chinese
have been moving in all over the place.
Take care Phuphum and may you live to see a better world for your children
Khmer (or Tampuan?) idiom: "The Chinese make the Khmer move, the Khmer make the minority people move, and the minority people make the spirits move." Meaning something like: Chinese buy up the valuable land downtown, pushing the Khmer into the outskirts, which in turn pushes the minority people out into the graveyards, which compels the spirits to move into the mountains.
If anyone is interested in hearing some of the stories (highlander lore) about the spirit places of Virachey and beyond in Ratanakiri, you can hear and watch me ramble on about them here: http://myriadofideas.com/video-podcast-stories-of-the-spirit-mountains-part-1-of-2-greg-mccann-phd/
Here is a link to photos from our 13-day expedition in Virachey in which we set up camera traps from the Veal Thom Grasslands all the way to within 400 meters of the Laos border. Hopefully we'll have some trap results soon. On our way out we checked one of the cams by the Gan Yu River and we had photos of a large civet cat, but those aren't in this set.