Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Wednesday, 2nd March 2016

The gibbons of Cambodia?s Northern Plains

The Northern Plains of Cambodia are an important habitat for a wide range of species, but especially the pileated gibbon. This area faces a battle between development and conservation to ensure that such creatures are not lost forever.

It was once part of the Central Indochina Dry Forest ecoregion, which stretched over parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Now much smaller, conservationists are trying to ensure that it is protected for the future.

Cambodia’s Northern Plains are among the biggest sections of deciduous dipterocarp forest left anywhere in the world. This means preserving its unique characteristics is important, as there are few alternative locations for the flora and fauna it supports.

Simon Mahood, a senior technical advisor with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Cambodia, highlighted its importance. He told the news arm of Mongabay that it “supports populations of… giant ibis and white-winged duck that have been lost from elsewhere. These birds, and animals like the pileated gibbon, are extremely rare on a global scale”.

He added: “They’re spectacular animals and the Northern Plains is vital for their survival. These areas contain huge trees, themselves globally threatened, which provide food and shelter to the gibbons, and nesting places for storks and birds like the white-winged duck.”

Anyone lucky enough to see the gibbons in their natural habitat will find that they are a particularly fascinating species. They live in small family groups and eat mainly fruit, but it is their calls that are most note-worthy.

Every evening at dusk, they can be heard making noises that are reminiscent of singing. These tunes are considered some of the most complicated made by any mammal and can travel for miles through the forest environment.

They are used as a way of marking their territory, as well as communicating with their mates. The male pileated gibbons have black fur, with contrasting light hands and eyebrows. In comparison, females have pale fur with black chests and faces.

The International Union for Conservation of Natura (IUCN) classifies pileated gibbons as endangered and their population has shrunk by around half in just 45 years. While there are still small pockets of land where they can be found in Laos and Thailand, the biggest communities are in Cambodia, where some 35,000 individuals are thought to still live.

Cambodia is, therefore, vital to the survival of pileated gibbons, which are most threatened by habitat loss and hunting. The country’s government has passed a sub-decree to ensure that no more land concessions will be granted in the Northern Plains, offering a certain amount of protection to the habitat and the species that call it home.

New monitoring tools are also being used to help patrol the area and make sure that illegal hunting and other practices are not being carried out. Such unified conservation projects represent hope for this beautiful creature.

Related news stories:
Top 5 experiences to have in Laos (7th September 2015)
How Vietnam got its flag (3rd November 2015)
The history of Vietnam's national costume (25th July 2014)
Hanoi versus Ho Chi Minh City - which Vietnamese heavyweight is the best? (23rd October 2014)