Preliminary Report: Upper Gan-Yu River and Veal Thom Grasslands Camera-Trapping Project and Potentials
Written by Gregory McCann of Habitat ID
March 1st, 2014
On January 25th 2014 we (Gregory McCann, Keith Pawlowski, Kurt Johnson, and several members of the Virachey Park staff as well as Brao and Kavet porters) embarked on a 12-day camera-trapping expedition into the interior of Virachey National Park. Four cameras were placed in what we deemed to be highly advantageous vantage points in the Veal Thom Grasslands (wallowing holes with numerous animal tracks near permanent swamps or springs, as well as known mammal paths), while 7 cameras were placed in the Upper Gan Yu River Valley north the of the Veal Thom Grasslands in the foothills of the sacred Haling Mountain.
The GPS (UTM) coordinates have been given to Park Ranger Sou, as well as all of the keys for the python locks and the padlocks for the protective casings. 14 32g memory cards and ample replacement batteries have also been left with the Park so that the camera batteries and cards can be changed.
It is our hope that the 4 cameras set up in the Veal Thom Grasslands can be serviced with ecotourists who join ranger Sou on trips to the Veal Thom Grasslands. It is our conviction that ecotourists will see the checking of cameras to be a very exciting addition to their wilderness experience.
As for the 7 cameras placed in the forest north of Veal Thom, we –Greg McCann (Habitat ID), Keith Pawlowski, Kurt Johnson, and Andreas Neunert- will raise funds to pay for the DSA (daily supply allowance) so that rangers can go into the forests to change the memory cards and batteries.
We believe that all cameras are strategically placed for optimal wildlife captures, and our hopes of acquiring images of Sun bear, Clouded leopard, leopard, elephants, and tigers are high.
This was my fifth trip to Virachey National Park and I noticed a dramatic decrease in the presence of loggers and poachers in the area between the villages of Tavang District along the Sesan River and the Veal Thom Grasslands, although I could still hear chain saws in the distance. To put it in better perspective, when I trekked there in 2012 I met approximately 24 loggers/poachers in the area between Piang Village and Veal Thom, whereas this time we encountered only 4.
We did not see any people in Veal Thom Grasslands itself, where by contrast in 2012 I witnessed a poacher butchering a Sambar deer in broad daylight in a tourist camp –a most disturbing sight. Nothing like that this time in 2014!
We did not encounter any people in the forests north of Veal Thom along the Gan Yu River. There were some old traps (several years old), although I did find one fairly new empty pack of cigarettes, so I think it can be assumed that this remote area is still penetrated by hearty poachers and loggers.
We heard 2 Sun bears engaged in a ferocious fight close to the Laos border (we were within 400 meters of the border at that position), and we also found elephant footprints (approximately 1 year old), heard numerous gibbons, heard Great hornbills, Sambar deer, found a dead python, and found ample signs of Sun bear presence (see photo below). Kurt Johnson also suspects that he found evidence of dhole prints, and one of our camera traps turned up images (within just 4 days) of a large Civet cat on the Gan Yu River near D’dar Poom Chop waterfall (we strongly suggest setting up D’dar Poom Chop as a new ecotourism site for its remarkable beauty and swimming possibilities; kingfishers were also spotted in this pretty location –see photo below of D’dar Poom Chop). Bird life was also abundant, and we noted several species of eagles, drongos, barbets and other avifauna. Footprints near the wallowing holes suggest populations of Sambar deer, Gaur, wild pig, barking deer, and possibly other species.
On the way out of the park we found a new logging road well within the park boundary beyond the main tourist waterfall on the O-Pong River. Young men were observed clearing forest with impunity in broad daylight. If this illegal road is not promptly shut down we fear that many of the larger trees in the riparian forests inside Veal Thom will be cut down and transported out of the park. If this happens Virachey will lose a significant portion of its beauty and it will be unappealing to tourists. We understand that combating such problems is very complex and difficult, but this particular road –which Sou Soukern and ranger Bon are now aware of- poses and very serious threat to the integrity of the park and its existence is simply shocking and obnoxious and it flies in the face of law enforcement.
The Next Steps
Habitat ID will hold a fundraiser in March or April (the exact date has not yet been determined) with the goal of raising enough money to pay for VNP staff to do a maintenance check of all cameras in the park, changing batteries and memory cards (a replacement set of batteries and memory cards has already been left with the Park office). Specifically, we will endeavor to cover the Daily Supply Allowance (DSA) costs of the VNP staff who check the cameras. We hope that a camera-check can be done before the onset of the rainy season, meaning we hope that it can be done before the end of April. Therefore, I (Greg McCann) will push to have the fundraising party arranged as soon as possible. The party will be held in the city of Chicago in the USA.
Habitat ID will also help promote ecotourism in VNP. I recently published an article promoting the concept of “camera-trap ecotourism” in which visitors who trek to the Veal Thom Grasslands (where four of our cameras are strategically placed) can assist ranger Sou Soukern in checking the cameras. The article can be read on the Travelfish web site at: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/324
We believe that having ecotourists pay for camera-checks can lead to a sustainable way of doing these checks; the camera placed near D’dar Poom Chop river camp can also be checked with the help of ecotourists if they are brought to this camp (again, we highly recommend it due to the location’s extraordinary beauty). However, the cameras placed closer to the Laos border might only be able to be serviced with DSA money that has been raised as most trekkers probably do not want to go so deep into the park. On a final note regarding ecotourism promotion, Mongabay.com –one of the most popular environmental news sites on the Internet, as invited me to write an article for their Blog page, and I will do this in the coming weeks (Mongabay’s blog can be viewed here: http://blog.mongabay.com/). I will also continue to promote VNP ecotourism on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forum as well as on Travelfish’ forum.