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Variety is the spice of life – biodiversity in the Cardamom Mountains

Posted on: 11.12.13 (Last edited) 12 December 2013

Biologist and photographer Jeremy Holden takes us on a journey to Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains – an area of incredible, and in many cases unique, biodiversity…

I was recently asked to write a feature on the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia for the latest edition of Fauna & Flora Magazine. The editor allowed me a double page spread and 800 words. It wasn’t nearly enough space to adequately represent this amazing area and the work Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has done to help preserve it. I produced a longer text than was asked, which meant that there was little space left for photographs.

To address this, I have put together a small gallery of images from the Greater Cardamom Mountain range showing what we have found there and how we are working to both study and conserve it.

Greater Cardamom Mountain Range. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

The Greater Cardamom Mountain range runs across the southern part of Cambodia, from the Thai border in the west, almost to the Vietnamese border in the east. Most of it is still forested, and areas of it still unexplored by scientists. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Misty forest. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

On the higher peaks the forest is often shrouded in mist. Remote and difficult to reach, many of these areas are a haven for wildlife. Elephants and the huge wild cattle known as gaur still haunt these forests, along with many smaller mammals. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Pileated gibbons. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

The song of the pileated gibbon is a familiar sound in the Cardamoms. FFI has facilitated survey work on these Endangered primates. The female is black and tan, the male all black but for his white hands and eyebrows. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Hairy-nosed otter. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Camera trapping for Siamese crocodiles in the O’Som wetlands caught a surprise image of the elusive and mysterious hairy-nosed otter, the first photograph of a wild individual in Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Male damselfly. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Research on the Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) of the Cardamoms has revealed many new country records, helping to illustrate the importance of this area for the smaller fauna, too. This Neurobasis chinensis male flashes his bright underwings. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Caterpillar. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Over the past decade FFI has facilitated the study of butterflies in the Cardamom Mountains, revealing a wide diversity of species. This unusual example is a moth caterpillar of Limacodidae (genus Narosa). Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Hersilia spider. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Other arthropod groups remain to be studied. The Hersilia spider is an excellent mimic of the lichen that grows on the rainforest trees and is very difficult to spot. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Vine snake. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Herpetological research was one of the first things FFI carried out in the Cardamom Mountains during a multi-discipline expedition in the year 2000. As well as building capacity via the Royal University of Phnom Penh in this field, the research has turned up many species new to science and helped create interest in a subject that is shunned by many Cambodians. The snake pictured is a common species known as a vine snake. It is characteristically bright green, but in the Cardamom Mountains shows this unusual white phase. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Gecko. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

A beautiful and, as yet, undescribed species of gecko from the eastern end of the Greater Cardamoms. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Leaf litter frog. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Another species discovered by FFI and in the process of description, this time a cryptic leaf litter frog. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Basket stinkhorn. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

The Cardamom Mountains still hold many mysteries, like this basket stinkhorn, a type of fungus that has also not been specifically identified yet. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Forest rangers. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

In partnership with Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment (MoE), FFI has supported forest rangers to help protect this important landscape. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Siamese crocodile. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

As well as studying and protecting the forests, FFI (here with support from the Disney Conservation Fund) is also helping to restore wildlife populations that have disappeared due to habitat loss or hunting. Captive bred Siamese crocodiles are now being reintroduced to river systems within the Cardamoms landscape, helping to return these ecosystems back to their natural state. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Written by
Jeremy Holden

Jeremy Holden is a photographer and field biologist who has worked in association with Fauna & Flora International since 1995. He specialises in camera trapping rare and cryptic animals in the rainforests of Southeast Asia.

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Jeremy Holden
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