New walking tours of Phnom Kulen will allow adventurous hikers to hopefully catch a glimpse of the Indochinese silvered langur, a monkey whose presence in the area 50km north of Siem Reap was formally recorded for the first time only last year.
While the tours can’t guarantee a sighting of the increasingly rare monkey, named for the elegant silver tips on its dark grey fur, Nick Butler, the director of Indochine Explorations, said that visitors have a good chance of seeing them on the trail, as well as spotting pig-tailed macaques, several squirrel species, bats and any of the 198 recorded bird species.
Virtually guaranteed will be sightings of large spiders and their surprisingly large webs which can span the breadth of the pathway through the forest.
The tours start off at the village near Preah Ang Thom, and loop back over a 3km or 5km circuit, which takes in massive sandstone formations, bat caves and, on the longer tour, a climb on to Mushroom Rock where the langurs can at times be sighted.
The survey that first recorded the existence of the monkeys on Phnom Kulen was conducted by the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), Integrated Solutions Asia Cooperation (ISAC and the Archaeology & Development Foundation,
with the Ministry of Environment.
Among the birds, reptiles, amphibians and plant life, it notes the presence of 24 non-bat mammal species, of which eight are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as being key species of international concern, including the silvered langur.
The report authors found a semi-viable population of about 20 langurs on Kulen. But despite the small population, viability is not a main concern – the monkeys face bigger threats from habitat loss, forest fragmentation and hunting.
The report notes that less than 25 per cent of the original forest cover remains, as expanding human populations and the conversion of forest to agricultural land, especially cashew plantations, take their toll.
But while the monkey population is small, it is not without importance according to Ben Hayes from ACCB, and one of the report’s authors.
“There are much more significant populations of this species in other protected areas of Cambodia, though Cambodia is the stronghold for this species and their exact status and relevance in Phnom Kulen is still unknown,” he said.
“It has enabled us to use the langur as a flagship species for Kulen to further emphasise the values and threats to the national park.
“So far Kulen has benefitted very little from the large tourism market in Siem Reap. Conservation tourism works very much alongside other conservation approaches and helps to draw attention to the issues. The continued support from Indochine Explorations has helped to fund the community patrolling at this important stage.”
The Kulen Mountain Forest Discovery Trail is led by Indochine Explorations and has been developed as part of an initiative to protect the forests and the species that depend upon them, including the silvered langurs.
The tours were set up to provide local employment, raise community awareness and help fund patrols for forest protection. Locals are hired to identify and clear the forest trails, act as guides and conduct night patrols, as well as to transport equipment for the trips.
Each tour led by Indochine Explorations pays $25 to the community to help maintain paths and to patrol the area, including a $5 fee for the local guide. An additional $5 fee is paid to a guide from the Ministry of Environment, who joins most groups ACCB, ISAC, and the Ministry of Environment are also engaged in monitoring the langur population inside the park, as well as conducting ranger training.
According to Nick Butler, the project is already creating results.
“We’ve seen that the villagers are becoming increasingly aware of the income that the forests can bring if they are allowed to stay where they are, so they are starting to actively protect them,” he said.
“I have heard reports that they have been tipping off the Ministry of Environment to the presence of loggers, with the result that loggers are being chased off and caches of cut logs burned so they can’t be sold.”
Butler has found that the villagers don’t want to cut down the trees, but often feel they don’t have a choice.
“When we first visited Kulen, a young man from the village named Chomran told me that he didn’t want to cut the trees, but had no other way of earning an income to support his family,” Butler said.
“Now he leads the Popel community patrol team that prevents trees from being cut down.”