This historic site was once a vibrant forest until excessive hunting decimated wildlife populations. Since becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site, this barren jungle is now well protected and suited for wildlife.
Angkor Wildlife Release Program, a partnering project of Wildlife Alliance with the Forestry Administration and the Apsara Authority, began rewilding the forest in 2013 when it released a pair of pileated gibbons into the forests surrounding Angkor Wat.
The team didn’t stop with gibbon families. In December 2014, they released three Germain’s silver langurs into the forest. Known for their wild hair-dos, these monkeys have a special stomach to handle a diet of toxic leaves. Like the gibbons, they are listed as endangered and are killed for food and medicine in addition to losing their homes to agriculture and logging.
Since 2001, Wildlife Alliance has been fighting the illegal wildlife trade via an elite law enforcement squad, dubbed the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team. But Suwanna Guantlett, the CEO of Wildlife Alliance, said that the NGO quickly ran into the issue of what to do with the living victims.
The group soon built the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) to house the rescued animals in natural-like conditions. Today, the facility is home to over a thousand animals rescued from the cooking pot or the cage. While most of the animals at the rescue centre are unable to be released back into the wild due to injury or a low chance of long-term survival, a few lucky ones find their way into the forest again.
But it’s one thing to have animals that could make it in the wild if given a shot, it’s another to find appropriate habitat in a country where many forests already house these species or are on the chopping block.
When the team started looking for a place to rewild their gibbons, the Angkor Wat forest jumped out. Since Angkor Wat became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, the forest has enjoyed some of the highest protections in a country that lost more than 1.5 million hectares of forest since 2001.
Angkor Wat is also a high-profile destination with over two million annual visitors, this means that they can draw attention on a much larger scale to the issues of wildlife and habitat conservation.
Given the success of rewilding with both the pileated gibbons and Germain’s silvered langurs, the Wildlife Alliance team is now prepping to bring back its biggest animal yet: sambar deer. The largest deer in Asia, sambar deer can weigh over 500 kilograms and are known as prime prey species for the region’s top predators, including tigers, wolves and dholes. Currently, the Angkor Wat deer are living in an enclosure in the forest getting used to their new surroundings.
According to theguardian.com, globalgiving.org and khmertimeskh.com