LATEST NEWS - Frontier Cambodia


The Frontier Tanzania Cambodia Marine Research Programme (CMM) is located on the island Koh Smach, an island in the Gulf of Thailand located off the coastal province of Koh Kong, Cambodia. Cambodia’s coastline has around 69 islands, many of which are fringed by coral reefs and associated seagrass beds and mangrove habitats, providing critical habitats for thousands of marine species. Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, with those of Southeast Asia being the most species-rich on earth, but also the most threatened of any region. Over half of Southeast Asia’s reefs are classified as “high risk”, primarily from coastal development and fishing related pressures. Tourism in Cambodia is on the increase, the number of foreign tourists visiting Cambodia in the first nine months of 2010 was 1.8 million, an increase of 15% compared to 2009.

The first weeks of this project consisted of the identification of fish species on the local coral reef, and the acquisition of information on species present in local waters from local fishermen. This preliminary data collected was collated in list form. This allowed the field staff to carry out further survey sessions in order to reduce the survey species list down to frequent, less frequent and infrequent fish species to be observed on the surrounding reef of the North West beach of Koh Smach. This phase also consisted of the selection of 10 permanent transect sites along the North West beach of Koh Smach. Once this procession was conducted, the starting point of each transect site was marked using old fishing buoys and sand filled plastic bottles as weights. This rather primitive method was used due to technical difficulties encountered GPS equipment, and therefore marker buoys are essential to be able to easily locate each transect site. Once this initial set up of the study area was conducted, pilot surveys were conducted in order to test the methodology and become familiar with the process to minimise future errors and to educate future field staff.

During this phase, 36 fish surveys were successfully completed across the 10 belt transect sites. While results are yet to be presented, this initial phase of the CMM project has been very successful, seeing as the project was set up with relatively minimal disturbances. It is expected that the next phases will produce more fish abundance surveys, which will allow us to obtain vital information on the composition of biodiversity and abundance for coral and invertebrate species present around the reef.

By Antoine Borg Micallef

Find out more about Frontier's Cambodia Island Beach Conservation project.



New projects are currently being set up for a marine research project on the island of Koh Smach off the coast of Cambodia. The projects aim to focus on assessing and monitoring reef health and biodiversity as well as carrying out socio-economic assessments; the findings from these projects will benefit both the conservation of native wildlife as well as the local community.

The coral reefs of Southeast Asia are the most species-rich on earth, but they are also the most threatened of any region. Over half of Southeast Asia’s reefs are classified as “high risk”, primarily from coastal development and fishing related pressures. Information about Cambodia’s reef systems is sparse and poorly documented. Koh Smach is located off of the coastal province of Koh Kong and is opposite a number of coastal developments situated in the Botum Sakor National Park. A number of areas within the park and many coastal regions are currently being developed for tourism resorts and services. Plans include the building of an airport, a port, a golf course, a number of new roads as well as many other commercial areas including hotels and restaurants. This is a very large scale project and is expected to have a large impact on the local flora and fauna and is in fact opposed by a number of conservation groups.

By carrying out research that looks into the anthropogenic impact of development on biodiverse areas such as the reefs of Koh Smach that will be so close to this development site, it is possible to assess the health of the system and monitor any changes that may occur over time that could be as a result of the nearby development processes. This will ensure that any biodiversity loss can be managed and suitable protection put in place.

On a more local level surveys of the reef system can be used to assess the current health and biodiversity of the reef systems as well as more focussed areas such as the sustainability levels of the fishing currently being carried out within the reef systems. Many local people depend both directly and indirectly on the reef either for fishing for income or for food. By monitoring the use and the changes in species abundance and diversity over time it can be ensured that the use is sustainable and will ensure that the services derived from the reef will be available to the local people for many generations to come.

By carrying out socio-economic surveys the project will be able to access local opinion, attitude, understanding and values of the reef. By understanding these local views and values it is possible to ensure that any future management plans are constructed with this in mind which will help guarantee the local support and so longevity of protection and sustainable use.

The team hope to start carrying out baseline surveys of the reef systems of the island to start generating species lists and abundance data for fish and invertebrates as well as looking at the benthic substrate including coral cover. They will also be recording factors that could have been caused by anthropogenic activities such as coral bleaching and coral damage. Socio-economic surveys will attempt to understand the local perception of the reef system, what they gain from it and their impacts on the reef itself. All of this data will then be able to assist in the understanding of the status of the reefs and help advise local management to ensure their protection and sustainable use.

By Charlie Outhwaite



Cambodia as a whole currently has the world’s third fastest rate of deforestation and in the area occupied by Frontier’s camp – the Oddar Meanchey Province - the rate of deforestation has been estimated at 2.1% per year. The forest is an important factor for both the people and the wildlife of the area but it is rapidly disappearing and although there is protection in place illegal logging seems to be continuing unabated.

Frontier Cambodia has been working in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary which is currently the largest protected area in Cambodia. Frontier has been concentrating on the Oddar Meanchey side of the sanctuary as this area has not been surveyed previously by any NGO’s. A number of significant species including guar and pileated gibbons have been observed in this area where there is a certain level of human disturbance taking place. This includes illegal human settlement, slash and burn agricultural areas as well as gaps in the canopy as a result of illegal logging activities.

During the most recent phase in Cambodia, Frontier looked into the extent of the illegal logging activity within the sanctuary, this being the biggest threat to the sanctuary any surveillance work that can be carried out by impartial Western NGO’s is crucial. Any recordings made can later be compared to the internationally recognised statistics and by co-operating in this role with the local forest rangers the extent to which illegal logging occurs can be exposed. It has been estimated that if illegal logging continues at its current rate the forest could be destroyed in five years!

Therefore, in the most recent phase of this project Frontier have been locating logging camps, recording their GPS location as well as capturing photographic evidence of these occurences. By providing the local rangers with this information they are then able to return to these locations and confiscate the chainsaws being used. Frontier located seven illegal logging camps resulting in the removal of six chainsaws by the area ranger. This is one way in which destruction of the forest, which is home to so many different species can be reduced.

By Charlie Outhwaite



This week our team in Cambodia Forest had a close encounter with one of the worlds most endangered primates the pileated gibbon. The pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) inhabits tropical forests ranging throughout Indo-China, comprising South East Thailand, South Western Lao, and Western Cambodia. Our Cambodia forest team has been working in the Kulem Promtep region for just over 1 year since relocation, and primate surveys have been an integral part of project work in the field.

Last phase the team recorded 39 incidents of gibbon vocal calls, however no sightings were reported. Gibbons are recognised by their distinctive territorial calls, which is evident within the area and results suggest there are at least three families inhabiting the 5 km range of forest surrounding the camp. This week’s pileated gibbon sighting further supports the presence of gibbon populations within the area, and provides exciting potential for future research into this endangered species.

With a long history of poverty and social political issues Cambodia has been relatively untouched in terms of conservation efforts and wildlife legislation. War and forest depletion has resulted in detrimental impacts on forest ecosystems, and as a consequence much of Cambodia’s wildlife is at high risk. Cambodia is home to ten species of primate, of which, nine are globally threatened including the pileated gibbon.

Pileated gibbons are experiencing a population decline as a result of increased hunting, and therefore any research on these populations will be essential for the future protection of individuals in Cambodia. The team will continue gibbon transect surveys throughout the area, and have high hopes for further sightings in the near future.

By Laura Burton



Within the same week as a Frontier Cambodia’s first pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) sighting, a binturong (Artictis binturong) was spotted by Frontier volunteers. The binturong is a species of civet native to South East Asia including India, China, Viet Nam, Bhutan and Cambodia. It is listed as vulnerable on the ICUN red list of threatened species due to a population decline of over 30% in the last 30 years. The main threats to binturong are habitat loss, degradation and wildlife trade. Historically the binturong was thought to be abundant throughout its native range; however, within the same range it is now rarely spotted.

Frontier Cambodia has previously recorded the presence of other civet species, including the Common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphrodites). However, this is the first time a vulnerable civet species has been spotted in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary by Frontiers staff and volunteers.

This find is particularly interesting as Frontier Cambodia have been investigating the impact of human disturbance on a variety of different species. Degradation of the binturong’s natural habitat is a result of human disturbance and therefore this sighting reflects positively on the mammalian biodiversity of the area. Frontier Cambodia is hopeful that more species previously unrecorded in the area will be spotted in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary.

By Julia Crabbe



The Sun Bear is a solitary bear, the smallest member of the bear family, which inhabits tropical forests from southern China to eastern India and down south as far as Indonesia. Nicknamed the ‘honey bear’, Helarctos malayanus is known for its incredibly long tongue which it uses to extract honey from bee nest. Little is known about the social life or population size and trends of this elusive bear.

A recent publication by Frontier team member Sarah Edwards announces the photographic capture and presence of the Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) in Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, northern Cambodia. Using strategically placed infrared camera traps at various locations such as dry river beds, small streams and a range of human and animal paths, 4 images of individual Sun Bears were taken. The confirmation of Sun Bear presence in the sanctuary is important data for Cambodia, where little information on bear distribution is available.

On the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list, the Sun Bear is listed as vulnerable due to its dependence on the forests that are rapidly disappearing as a result of deforestation throughout Southeast Asia. Over the last thirty years, suitable Sun Bear habitat has dramatically decreased leading to a population decline greater than 30%. The Sun Bears forest habitat is being destroyed by logging and conversion to agriculture. Logging roads have additionally created easy-access for poachers to enter the forest. The demand for bear products is perhaps the greatest threat to all bear species as many traditional Asian medicines use bear fat, gall bladder bile, meat, paws, spinal cord, blood and bones to cure a large range of ailments. The Sun Bear is also a favoured ingredient in Taiwan for soup. Perhaps the most in-demand bear product being traded is the gall, selling for up to 18 times the price of gold. While there is a ban on bear product trade in most countries, Taiwan and South Korea are not party to the ban, bear products being too firmly rooted in their culture for change to occur any time soon. Data on population size and trends lacks overall in Southeast Asia; the work the Frontier team are carrying out in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is therefore essential to the survival of this species.

By Lea Fraenkl



Frontier Cambodia has regularly captured images of gaur (Bos gaurus) during camera trap surveying of the Kulen – Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. Gaurs are native to South and South East Asia and are one of the world’s largest wild cattle species. They have been listed on the ICUN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as ‘vulnerable’ since 1986. Even though guars have had vulnerable status for twenty six years, populations have continued to decrease, with decline in parts of the species range being over 70% in the last three generations (26-30 years).

The areas of Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary that have been surveyed by Frontier for large mammals include locations inhabited by people that have suffered from a high level of human disturbance from illegal logging. Socio-economic surveys of these local communities were also conducted within these areas, with only 5.5% of surveyed households recording that they have seen any gaur within the last year. Frontiers camera trapping and scat and track surveys have confirmed the presence of gaur in Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. The camera traps have also revealed a shift in gaur behaviour, with a family of guar being captured on camera at 18:22. Gaur are typically diurnal (active during the day) but are reported to turn nocturnal in areas of high human disturbance. Therefore, it is possible that the illegal logging and hunting within the forest, near to where the gaurs were photographed, are causing such change in their behaviour. Similar results have been found in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia, which is also subjected to human disturbance. In their results, 75% of the camera traps that photographed gaur occurred between 18:00 and 06:00. This demonstrates a very clear shift to nocturnal activity.

Gaurs are able to persist in fragmented areas with some habitat disturbance. The ongoing decline in gaur populations is a result of hunting for meat and body parts, with their horns being desired for decorative purposes, and their internal organs for medical purposes. Although the abundance of gaur in Kulen-Promptep Wildlife Sanctuary is still unknown, the regular capturing of individuals and families on camera confirm their on-going presence in the protected area. Frontier’s surveying has also recorded behavioural changes in gaur, possibly as a result of human disturbance.

By Julia Crabbe



Frontier’s Cambodia project, located in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, has recently captured 48 images of the Northern Pig Tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina) at different site locations around the sanctuary. The Northern Pig Tailed Macaque has an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) status of ‘vulnerable’ (since 2000). It was assigned this status as a result of a declining population at over 30% over the last three generations (30-36 years) across its entire distribution range. This decline is projected to continue at the same rate or higher over the next three generations. The macaque is found in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, although populations are only stable in Thailand and Cambodia – elsewhere populations are declining rapidly.

The decline of this species has several sources. Habitat destruction including deforestation, the building of roads/dams/power lines and deliberately set fires are major factors as they lead to habitat fragmentation and soil erosion. Loss of fruiting trees and sleeping sites due to monocultures and plantations also play a damaging role. Additionally, the Northern Pig Tailed Macaque is hunted and traded for food, sport and traditional medicine. In India and Bangladesh, habitat loss and poaching are major threats to the survival of this species, whereas in Thailand, the males of this species are exploited for picking coconuts or used for show by resorts, selling for anything up to USD 1,000.

Despite the IUCN’s status of vulnerable with a decreasing population, the Northern Pig Tailed Macaque was the second most captured on film species in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary by Frontiers camera traps. Major threats facing the species in Cambodia are poaching (for food, medicine and sport) and capture for pets. Regardless of this, an abundance of macaques are apparent in the sanctuary.

By Lea Fraenkl



Butterflies (Lepidoptera order) are a large varied group of invertebrates, with twice as many species as terrestrial birds. Part of Frontier’s project in Cambodia forest monitors the Lepidoptera order, focusing on habitat diversity and human disturbance, in order to give conservationists a greater understanding of butterfly ecology. The main objective of the study is to contribute towards a species list for the area and to improve the understanding of butterfly communities and the distribution of species with respect to different habitat types. The completion of a confirmed species list will contribute to local scientific knowledge and understanding. It will also confirm and expand knowledge of current distributions of butterflies and give an enhanced insight into their ecologies.

The study site is situated in the Oddar Meanchey side of the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, and  has never been surveyed; it is therefore is a brilliant opportunity to investigate the number of species present, whether any are threatened or endangered, and to further support research and classification of new species within the area.

There are approximately 27,000 species of butterfly currently identified in the oriental region alone, and butterflies are among the most studied group of insects in South-East Asia.  Although approximately 90% of butterflies living in the tropics, tropical butterfly ecology is poorly understood in comparison to cooler, temperate counterparts, and no extensive butterfly field guide exists for the area. With a lack of data on tropical species in these regions, effective conservation measures are difficult to implement, and more research is required to enhance our knowledge of this diverse group of invertebrates.

Order Lepidoptera (literally ‘scaly wing’) are characterised by large, often highly coloured wings and proboscis which is used to feed on flower nectar. As well as being creatures of great beauty, butterflies play an important role in tropical ecosystems; they are key pollinators of plants and are prey for a large number of animals. With their large spatial range and ability to thrive in many different climates man also consider them a very effective biodiversity indicator species. During the last phase, six main butterfly families were identified on the project, with a total of 169 butterflies captured either with hand nets or canopy traps and identified to family level.



Recently, Cambodia staff and volunteers spotted a Fishing cat on one of their night walks! This was a real treat for Frontier’s staff and volunteers as the species has been on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species list since 2008 and is classified as endangered and populations of this magnificent species are still falling

The Fishing cat is well adapted to living near rivers, streams and mangrove swamps as it is an extremely skilled swimmer. The fishing cat can be identified by its olive-grey fur with dark spots which lay horizontally along the length of the body. The Fishing cat’s ears are very noticeable as they are of black with central white spots.


Fantastic news just in- our Cambodia Tropical Wildlife and Adventure Project has just received some exciting news regarding the narrow mouthed frog species, Microhyla inornata. Sarah Edwards, Cambodia’s previous Principle Investigator, along with her researchers discovered that the plain narrowed mouthed frog has a greater range than once thought. Previously, this species had only been seen on the Cardamom Mountains; however, it has now been found around Frontier’s research area in the Oddar Meanchey Province, Cambodia which is a significant distance from its previously known range.

The narrow mouthed frog’s (Microhyla inornata) conservation status is currently of least concern and has a stable population trend, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species. This frog is commonly found in forests and forest edges, and usually finds individual shelter under rocks and logs. The Cardamom Mountains are part of a mountain range situated in the south west of Cambodia and Eastern Thailand and provides a suitable habitat for these small creatures to live. The highest peak of the Cardamom Mountains, and in Cambodia itself, is Phnom Aural, a height of 1,813 metres (5,948 ft). The western slopes of the Cardamom Mountains are covered in a dense, lush rain forest and have approximately 3,800 to 5,000 mm of rainfall per year. In contrast, the eastern slopes of the mountain are protected from much of this heavy rainfall, and have more of a wooded habitat, with pepper and cardamom and grown commercially in the surrounding area. Having only been spotted in the Cardamom mountain region before, it was a shock to Frontier field staff to find not only a few species on site but having it as one of their most commonly found species. Everyone at Frontier are very excited about this news and are very honoured to have such enthusiastic and hardworking staff and volunteers to enable such scientific discoveries to happen. Read more on our Cambodia Tropical Wildlife and Adventure Project.

Frontier runs a number of wildlife conservation projects, including volunteer projects in Tanzania and Madagascar.