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Asia Programs

Building National Consensus for Asian Elephant Conservation in Cambodia

ConservCambodia

Building National Consensus for Asian Elephant Conservation in Cambodia

Habitat loss and degradation is a significant issue for Asian elephant in Cambodia as increasing amounts of natural habitat are converted to economic land concessions throughout the country, including inside and adjacent to protected areas. The Cardamom Mountains Landscape holds a core population of Asian elephant yet to date there has been few targeted conservation efforts and little is known about this globally important population. The long-term goal of the project is to develop a monitoring program for Asian elephants in the southern Cardamoms and to ensure conservation efforts of this core population are strategic, effective and adaptive. The short-term goals of this project are to collect critical information to enable a monitoring program to be established, to improve human-Asian elephant coexistence and to inform the development of a comprehensive Asian elephant national action plan.

UPDATED – July 2014

The first short-term goals of this project are to collect critical information to enable a monitoring program to be established, to improve human-Asian elephant coexistence and to inform the development of a comprehensive Asian elephant national action plan.We require assistance from the International Elephant Foundation to i) implement a field survey to locate and map Asian elephant hotspots within the southern Cardamoms to enable a future monitoring program based on fecal dung surveys, DNA and capture-mark-recapture analysis; and ii) to provide matched funding for a nationwide assessment of human-elephant conflict. The second short term goal is determine the following: i) current elephant distribution; ii) past elephant distribution; iii) information on elephants present in the area (seasonality, group composition); iv) current distribution of HEC; v) past distribution of HEC; vi) characteristics of HEC in the area (intensity, form, which elephants cause conflict); vii) distribution of selected elephant threats.

The long-term goal of the project is to develop a monitoring program for Asian elephants in the southern Cardamoms and to ensure conservation efforts of this core population are strategic, effective and adaptive and will analyze and publish the interview data together with other elephant range states, and share with relevant stakeholders to enable it to be utilized to inform HEC management and conservation programs in range states.

Conservation Needs

Within the Cardamom Mountains Landscape the southern Cardamoms appear to be the most important area but to date there have been few targeted monitoring or conservation efforts. There is a need to better understand Asian elephant population status, structure, habitat use and finer scale movements within the landscape, and to establish a long-term monitoring program to enable population trends to be measured over time and conservation efforts to be evaluated and adapted.

Moreover, we need to better understand the current status, intensity and distribution of human-elephant conflict in order to improve the current response and to enhance human-elephant co-existence.

To achieve the goals, we conducted field surveys to locate and map Asian elephant hotspots, such as saltlicks, watering holes and trails within the southern Cardamoms and interview survey on human-elephant conflict national wide in the eastern plains.

We will ensure that we share all information collected with all relevant stakeholders through the consultation process and development of the national Asian elephant action plan, including Wildlife Alliance and Conservation International (who both have protected area management and law enforcement programs in the Southern Cardamoms), WCS and WWF. The latter two organizations will implement a collaborative Asian elephant dung survey to enable DNA analysis and capture- mark-recapture analysis to calculate the current population status of the species in the Eastern Plains landscape. There is a considerable gap in such monitoring efforts in the Cardamom Mountains, which we hope to fill with the help of this project.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of recent deforestation which is placing increasing pressure on remaining elephant habitats. Consequently, human-elephant conflict is expected to rise, thus it is especially important to engage in the development of a national action plan to try to promote more strategic conservation of Asian elephant in Cambodia with full government support, ensuring the long-term conservation of elephants via improved knowledge and subsequently management of one of the region’s most significant core Asian elephant populations.

Summary of Goals and Objectives

The long-term goal of the project is to develop a monitoring program for Asian elephants in the southern Cardamoms and to ensure conservation efforts of this core population are strategic, effective and adaptive. The short-term goals of this project are to collect critical information to enable a monitoring program to be established, to improve human- elephant coexistence and to inform the development of a comprehensive Asian elephant national action plan in Cambodia. We require assistance from the International Elephant Foundation to i) implement a field survey to locate and map Asian elephant hotspots within the southern Cardamoms to enable a future monitoring program based on fecal dung surveys, DNA and capture-mark-recapture analysis; and ii) to provide matched funding for a nationwide assessment of human-elephant conflict.

Objectives:

  • Asian elephant hotspots within the southern Cardamom Mountains are located, mapped and information shared with all relevant stakeholders by end 2015
  • The distribution and intensity of HEC is reviewed in Cambodia by the end of 2014
  • Information collected by the project is represented within the national action plan for Asian elephant by the end of 2015

Describe any changes in goals:

There is no change of the project goals for this interim report.We have submitted a proposal to the Asian Elephant Foundation for funding to conduct DNA surveys within the hotspot areas next year, but if the application is not supported we will carry out a three more trips to extend the hotspot survey area. There is some indication from local people that there may be some additional elephant core locations outside the current hotspot focal area. In terms of the development of the national action plan, we plan to hold a meeting in the near future with relevant government partners and NGOs. We have not shared the information collected so far with stakeholders in the national action plan meeting.

Action Taken:

During the reporting period, the project was able to complete two major field activities 1) a hotspot survey to locate elephant hotspot in three main areas in the southern Cardamom Mountains and 2) interview surveys to understand the elephant distribution and HEC status in the past and present (see details below). We are now in the process of organizing local meetings with technical staff and managers of Forestry Administration, Ministry of Environment and NGOs to discuss the formation of the elephant national action plan.

Summary of the Progress:

Elephant Hotspot Survey

  • We focused on a 750 km2 sampling area that previous research had determined to be the most likely elephant core area. We divided the area into 30, 5 x 5 km survey grids.
  • We conducted interview surveys with local villagers, who are likely to know where elephants occur within the sampling area (e.g. hunters, NTFP collectors etc.)
  • We conducted field surveys within each grid, searching for new elephant hotspots (wallows, saltlicks, elephant trails and crossing points) and checked areas specifically recommended by NGOs/local villagers. Every day a new grid was surveyed by teams of 2-3 individuals.
  • Every elephant sign was documented (dung, footprints, observations) and each location was marked with GPS (Figure 1).

The project team, comprised of staff from FFI, FA andMoE, was assisted by local guides. We undertook four field surveys from February to April 2014 in the three major elephant areas: Veal Taphu, Areng, and Chiphat in Koh Kong province (Figure 1). All photos credited to FFI.

Human Elephant Conflict and Elephant Distribution Surveys

The team carried out interviews with local communities in the Eastern Plain Landscape (Figure 2), using questionnaires that were designed during an annual meeting in India by a collaborative group of elephant researchers and conservationists from seven different elephant range states (informally named the Elephant Conservation Group – Thailand, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia), each of which have implemented same activities in their respective country. The questionnaires can be given upon request.

We surveyed a total of 195 households across 68 grids (25 km2 each, Figure 2) within eastern plain landscape. In 60 grids we surveyed three different families per grid. Due to low population density in some areas, we surveyed only two families in five grids and one family in 3 grids. Overall, the time interviewees had resided in the survey areas ranged from 5 to 90 years. One family had resided in the area <10 years, five families: 20-28 years, 83 families: 30-39 years, 65 families: 40-49 years, 19 families: 50-59 years, 15 families: 60-69 years, eight families >70 years.

Of the 68 grids, 31 grids had some elephant presence either recently or historically, while 37 grids reported no current or even recent elephant presence. Six grids reported always seeing elephants, five grids have elephants all year round, in six grids elephants were present irregularly, and in three grids elephants were seasonally present. Although different grids reported elephant presence across seasons, elephants were most commonly reported to be seen during the wet season. Of the 31 grids, nine grids reported to have elephants present in the last year (2013) of which, eight had reports of HEC always taking place in their areas. Of those eight grids, two grids reported HEC happened at a small scale, seven grids reported moderate levels of HEC, and three grids had reports of HEC being a major problem.

In terms of HEC, eight grids had reports of elephants raiding their crops; this included two grids where elephants destroyed crops and huts, and four grids where locals reported being worried about their safety. There was no elephant or human death resulting from the HEC incidents according to our interviews. However, there was one incident where an elephant killed an old woman in Mondulkiri in 2005. In all grids where HEC took place, different people reported differently in terms of the HEC trend. One family reported HEC has decreased, nine families felt HEC was stable, and seven families felt that HEC has increased.

Six families reported crop raiding occurring all year round, 10 families said crop raiding is irregular, and three families said crop raiding is seasonal. Fifteen families reported crops were raided by a lone elephant, seven families reported crops being raided by a small group of elephants, one family reported that crops are raided by a group without young, and six families reported that crops were raided by a group with young.

Interviewees believed that HEC was decreasing because: people are tolerant, elephants moved away from the area due to heavy disturbance, or the habitat was cleared. Some respondents also cited the strengthening of guarding supported through this project as helping to bring HEC to a manageable level. Some areas reported to have stable or increasing HEC because elephants have become used to crop raiding and the traditional and new HEC mitigation techniques were not effective in deterring elephants. One grid acknowledged receiving assistance from FFI to help mitigate HEC in the area. Mitigation tools used provided by the project included firework, carbides, a watchtower building, guard group formation, warning system placement, and torches. More support and new tactics for mitigating HEC are needed.

Conservation Outcomes:

Important locations of Asian elephants in the southern Cardamom landscape have been documented and mapped (see Figure 1).
- We now have a better understanding of the distribution of HEC is in the Eastern Plains Landscape. We plan to analyze this data and try to publish it in a peer-reviewed journal.
-The above results are now in the process of being used in the development of a national elephant action plan which will provide the template and official recognition of the conservation need and plan for Asian elephants in Cambodia.

Major Findings and Accomplishments to Date:

The main elephant hotspots in the southern Cardamom mountain landscape have been identified (Figure 1). These hotspots will now be used as the survey locations for future DNA mark-capture-recaptured sampling to estimate elephant population dynamics for establishment of a long term monitoring program.

In 31 grids in the eastern plains, locals reported the presence of elephants in community areas in the past, but only nine grids reported to have seen elephants in 2013 (Figure 2). Thus, there is potential that the elephants have either moved or possibly their population has been reduced. Either way, this needs to be further investigated. In eight grids local confirmed that HEC has taken place in their areas, and while the support given from this project to mitigate HEC was considered to have been somewhat successful, more support is needed.

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