Habitat ID recently joined veteran wildlife photographer Bruce Kekule on a camera-trapping mission in Thailand’s majestic and little-known Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Located 500 miles south of Bangkok in Surat Thani province, the 1,155 sq. kilometer Khlong Saeng WS is home to marbled cat, clouded leopards, leopards, Malayan tapir, elephant, Argus pheasant, and many other remarkable creatures. There is also a slight possibility that tigers still roam some of the remotest sections of the reserve.
Striking limestone crags erupt straight out of the huge Chiao Lan Lake. These mountains are actually an ancient coral formed 200 million years ago in the Permian Era that were pushed above ground when the Indian plate collided with Asian. In fact, the lake that helps provide this stunning setting is artificial, created decades ago when the Rajaprabha Dam was built to produce hydroelectricity. One can only imagine what the area was like before the inundation -an Amazonia beyond our wildest dreams swarming with tigers, rhinoceros, and leopards (the latter are extant in the sanctuary).
We deployed 4 Bushnell Trophy camera-traps (set for video!) alongside Bruce’s gargantuan pro DSLR traps:
The cameras will be checked in about two months, before the end of September, and we should have some amazing video footage that will go towards proving that Khlong Saeng WS is a world treasure and deserves full protection efforts. Interestingly, Khlong Saeng is contiguous with several other protected areas, including Khao Sok National Park, Sri Phang Nga NP, Kaeng Krung NP, and Khlong Phanom NP. Taken together these “protected” areas form a province-sized wilderness containing the oldest rain forest on the planet (the Thai-Malay Peninsula was never covered over during the Ice Age, making the rain forests of the peninsula older than the Congo and Amazon jungles!
It rained heavily when we were in the field setting up cameras, making work difficult. Leeches were a constant annoyance, and freshly cut tree saplings (slashed by our guides -that’s something we’ll have to talk about on our next trip) posed a grave risk when slipping and sliding down the mountainsides. Nonetheless, there is something magical about being in a rain forest in the rain, but perhaps that’s because we had the luxury of retreating back to our floating bungalows at the end of each day.
We had an interesting and diverse crew on this expedition. Taiwanese doctor Jimmy Chen joined this trip, and brothers Lek and Baut (see above) led us into the jungle in search of game trails. But the man responsible for making this expedition happen is the legendary wildlife photographer Bruce Kekule, author of Wild Rivers, Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand, and Thailand’s Natural Heritage. His books are available on this web site www.brucekekule.com In addition to publishing gorgeous and informative books about Thailand’s last and best wild places, Bruce is likely the world’s leading photographer of the rare black leopard of the Asian jungle.
Each morning we woke to several families of white-handed gibbons singing and whooping in the forests across the water, sounding like some sort of primordial war call shouted out by angry natives preparing for an attack in the hills. We saw barking deer on two mornings, spotted a wild pig, a large monitor lizard, and saw numerous birds, including the rare Blue-eared kingfisher, White-bellied sea eagle, Pied hornbill, Great hornbill (these were making all kinds of awesome noise all day long), osprey, greater cuckoo, and lapwing (the “alarm bell” for the gaur, according to Bruce), among others.
We were not as fortunate as a group of 3 Swiss ecotourists who had the great privilege of seeing a young male elephant come down to the shore 2 of the 3 mornings they stayed at Khlong Ya! Bruce had seen the young bull before, but Jimmy and I were anxious for a look and we woke up early every morning to catch a glimpse of the pachyderm. No such luck for us!
On our way out we came upon a the skull and antler rack of a long-dead Sambar deer that died at perhaps 8 years of age. Was it killed by a black leopard? We’ll never know…
We’ll be back with an update regarding our Khlong Saeng WS cams in a couple of months, but before that Habitat ID will be getting more camera-trap images from Cambodia’s Virachey National Park, as Park ranger Sou Soukern will be heading back into the jungle to service our cameras where we have a long-running conservation project. We can hardly wait!