The youngest person in Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group (CECG)
My name is Phalla Leng and I have just started studying for my Master’s in Biodiversity Conservation at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). I have been volunteering with FFI’s Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group for the past two years. In this project I am not only the youngest and smallest member of the team, but also the only girl. Since I began working on the project I have encountered many challenges, especially fieldwork in the mountainous forest!
In 2011 I completed my Bachelors in Biology at RUPP and wrote my dissertation thesis on the Affects of Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Methods on Elephants in Seima Protection Forest in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. My results showed that rice is the most important crop that elephants like to eat and the method that was most effective were fireworks that scare elephants away.
Conducting fieldwork for my research was a special time for me – it was the first time that I could really show my ability but it was also a very difficult time. There were huge rainstorms at night that made the roads very muddy and dangerous to travel on. We often got stuck and spent long hours by bus, truck, taxi and motorbike in order to reach our research sites and interview local people.
Provincial roads during the wet season. Credit: FFI
Recently the team and I conducted fieldwork for a new study in collaboration with elephant conservation projects in eight other elephant range states, which aims to develop adaptive management for human elephant conflict across Asia. We interviewed farmers at Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) flashpoints along the edge of the Cardamom Mountain range in southwest Cambodia to try and determine the real intensity of HEC compared with people’s perceptions of it. Often HEC is actually not so high but people think it is a big problem, however recently HEC is becoming much more frequent as development activities increase and more and more disturbance happens inside the elephant’s forest.
Calling a tractor to pull us out. Credit FFI
On our second field survey trip the weather conditions were extremely difficult. It was the middle of the rainy season and due to the mud and rain our truck slid off the road and landed on its side in a flooded rice paddy! We were stuck in the dark and had to hire two tractors from the local sugar cane plantation to pull us out before we could carry on to the village to continue our fieldwork and questionnaires.
Getting bogged down on the way to interview villagers. Two water buffalo rescued us on this occasion. Credit: FFI
My name is Sovannak Keo, and I am a counterpart to the project from Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment. I have been working on research and raising awareness with the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group for over one and a half years now. Previous to that I spent five years working with international volunteers organising tropical research expeditions with the organisation Frontier in Botum Sakor National Park, and two years working for my government ministry with UNDP.
Nowadays I like to work with FFI as I have seen first-hand the rapid decline in wildlife populations across the country so I want to work to conserve the remaining forests and species that live in them, especially elephants! I often lead our team to set up and check our camera traps on Dalai Mountain, deep inside the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. The walk up the mountain is very hard and takes a full day. Nobody else goes up there because it is so difficult. Last year we recorded very rare pictures of elephants mating in front of the camera and now we are preparing for a follow up study, with more cameras, to study the local elephants in more detail and hopefully see if the mating was successful.
CECG truck bogged after inclement weather conditions. Credit: FFI
Travel to our project sites is always quite difficult, especially the remote human elephant conflict sites. As well as often getting stuck in thick mud, we then have to leave our truck and continue by motorbike, by boat (during floods) or on foot. It is always challenging but I like to work in the field. Even though I am from Phnom Penh city, when I am in the field and in the forest, it is much better than working in an office.