Cambodia is home to a large number of rare and endangered animal species thanks to its large variety of different habitats. In the remote forest of Cambodia’s Eastern Plains wild cattle and deer species in addition to predators such as leopards and tigers are still to be found. Moreover, Cambodia has the largest freshwater population of Irrawaddy Dolphins to be found anywhere in the world and an incredible array of bird species. The Mekong River is also home to several endangered fish species and the Siamese Crocodile which are considered critically endangered.
Endangered Mammals in Cambodia
Cambodia is home to many mammal species that at one time would have flourished throughout the forests of Southeast Asia. The Lower Mekong Dry Forest region have globally significant populations of wild cattle and deer species in addition to the Indochinese tiger and Asian elephant. In total there are 16 globally endangered and 2 critically endangered mammal species that live in Cambodia.
The largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia are to be found in the Eastern Plains of Mondulkiri province. Camera-trap photos and sign surveys in the Eastern Plains area show a healthy and reproducing population. As human population increases, these valuable habitats will come under threat through encroachment, logging and farming. Through the work of organisations such as, WWF Cambodia and the Mondulkiri Project, great progress is being made to protect large areas of forest habitat for the Asian Elephant and the plethora of other species that live there.
Asiatic Black Bear
Asiatic black bears are considered endangered and are rarely encountered in Cambodia’s forests. Photographic evidence of the species is extremely uncommon, however, there have been intermittent reports of sightings from rangers and locals living in the remoter corners of Mondulkiri province. Unfortunately, the Asiatic black bear has been overhunted throughout history in Southeast Asia due to the use of its body parts being used in traditional medicine. The population is also under threat through habitat loss caused by logging and human expansion but it is hoped that the species can recover in protected forest areas of the Eastern Plains.
Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful of all wild cattle species. Cambodia has seen a dramatic loss in banteng populations between the 1970’s and today. Presently, Cambodia is home to several hundred individuals that live in the Eastern Plains where protection efforts have stabilised the population decline. Like other endangered species, Cambodia’s banteng population is under pressure from habitat loss in addition to banteng being hunted for trophies and meat. Because of the diseases and parasites that result from domestic livestock, WWF Cambodia is enforcing a ban of all domestic cattle in the strict protection zones of the Mondulkiri Protected Forest and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary.
The black-shanked douc is one of the most identifiable primates with its black hind limbs that contrast with its grey body and pale blue face. Cambodia’s eastern province of Mondulkiri holds the largest population of black-shanked douc in the world: In Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, 42,000 individuals have been estimated to live there with smaller populations in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary as well as Mondulkiri Protected Forest. Another endangered douc species, the red-shanked douc has also recently been confirmed as living in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province. All species of douc are native to Indochina and contribute to the incredible biodiversity in the region.
The clouded leopard is a secluded, largely nocturnal cat that spends most of its life in trees. There have been very few sightings of this animal anywhere in the world, however, the presence of this magnificent species has been confirmed by images from camera traps in the Eastern Plains in Mondulkiri province. Like most large cats, the clouded leopard is under threat from hunting and loss of its habitat, making areas of protected forest crucial for the species.
Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog)
Dhole is a species of wild dog native to Southeast Asia that has experienced a dramatic drop in population in the past 50 years. It is now classified as a globally endangered species with an estimated 2,500 adults remaining.
In Cambodia, dholes reside in protected forested areas in the Eastern Plains. Disease transmission from domestic dogs are a significant threat to this species, which is why there is a strict “no dogs”-policy in the protected areas. After an outbreak of a canine infection in 2011-2012, thought to have been transmitted from domestic dogs, the populations are slowly recovering since 2015.
Eld’s deer have a distinctive thick mane and bow shaped antlers and occupy the Lower Mekong Dry Forest region. In contrast to the more common Sambar deer, Eld’s deer prefer drier, open forests.
The Eld’s deer is considered highly endangered with the only significant numbers remaining in northern and eastern lowland forest in Cambodia. As a result, the small groups that are sparsely distributed in Cambodia’s Eastern Plains are highly significant for the survival of this magnificent species.
As the name implies, the fishing cat predominantly feeds on fish and is an excellent swimmer and diver needed to catch its prey.
Unfortunately, illegal poaching is a threat to this species, and its strong preference for wetland habitats has led to population declines in the last 20 years.
There have been recent images recorded on camera traps of the fishing cat which shows that there is a small remaining population in some of Cambodia’s wetland areas. With conservation efforts to help stop the illegal poaching, human encroachment and overfishing in its habitats, it is hoped the population can stabilise and recover to greater numbers.
The Irrawaddy is a small dolphin, dark grey in color with a pale underside and a small rounded dorsal fin. The Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin is the personification of the Mekong River and its incredible biodiversity.
The Mekong River in Cambodia is the world’s most important remaining freshwater habitat for this species and supports the largest of the five freshwater populations that remain globally.
Thanks to the work of the Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project and intensive conservation measures, the population in the Cambodian stretch of the Mekong is slowly increasing.
Thanks to recent camera traps images from Cambodian’s Eastern Plains, there is now a confirmed small population of leopards living in this area.
This population is critically important due to the fact that the species is extinct in Singapore, Vietnam and Laos and drastically diminishing in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.
Pygmy Slow Lorises
Pygmy lorises have recently been sighted within Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia’s Eastern Plain. They are a species of primate found east of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia, southern China , Lao, and Vietnam. Due to their nocturnal, and largely unknown nature, very little is known of their ecology.
The local Bunlong people who are a minority people living in Mondulkiri province and Khmer people hunt lorises for use in traditional medicine.
Protected areas in eastern Cambodia such as Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary are vitally important sanctuaries for this largely unstudied primate.
The Indochinese tiger was once common throughout most of Southeast Asia, but like many of the endangered species found in Cambodia, it is now severely under threat.
The main reason the tiger population is at a dangerous level is because of hunting and illegal poaching due to the strong demand in tiger skins, bones and teeth. The tigers habitat loss has severely threatened its numbers in addition to the decline in its target prey species.
The last tiger in Cambodia was seen was in 2007, however, the government and organisations working in the area are implementing schemes to reintroduce tigers to Mondulkiri’s Eastern Plains. According to some experts, Cambodia offers the highest potential landscape in Asia to recover tiger populations.
Endangered Birds of Cambodia
The diverse habitats in Cambodia are sanctuaries for many endangered bird species. They include waterbirds such as the giant ibis and white-shouldered ibis in addition to three species of vultures.
The Giant Ibis
The giant ibis is considered critically endangered due to the widespread loss of its natural habitats and deforestation.
Cambodia’s protected areas of dry forests in Preah Vihear and Mondulkiri province provide a population foothold for this incredible species.
This giant ibis has recently been declared Cambodia’s national bird, and the conservation efforts in the country are essential to its survival as a species.
Greater adjutants are large and distinctive members of the stork family that predominantly feed on small prey species on land and water.
The global population has seen a massive decrease in recent years due to habitat loss and human exploitation with the human population estimated to be between 150-200 individuals.
Cambodia is the only place in the world besides from some regions of Northeast India where the species still breeds. Roughly two thirds of the Cambodian population can be found on Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve with the remainder congregating in Mondulkiri Northern Plains and on the Mekong River north of Kratie.
Strict enforcement of laws protecting nesting sites are required to protect the birds from egg and chick poachers.
The green peafowl was once common throughout the forested lowlands of Southeast Asia, however, the green peafowl have undergone a rapid decline in recent decades. In the Indochina region, just a few populations survive in Cambodia’s northern and eastern provinces and isolated regions of Vietnam.
Due to its beautiful appearance, the green peafowl faces a threat of hunting for its feathers, meat and for the illegal pet trade.
Strict conservation measures in Cambodia’s protected regions will help this stunning bird to increase in population numbers and ensure the survival of the species.
The sarus crane is reported as being the tallest flying bird in the world, with some birds growing as tall as 1.8 meters.
The Indochina subspecies has experienced a huge reduction in numbers in the past 50 years with current population numbers thought to be less than 1000 individuals. The majority of this population is confined to Cambodia and remote areas of Lao and Vietnam. In Cambodia, efforts are being made to educate local communities against hunting and protect the nesting sites of these incredible birds.
Endangered Reptiles of Cambodia
Cambodia is a refuge for several endangered reptile species including holding the only globally significant populations of the Siamese crocodile.
In addition, there has recently been a turtle species rediscovered that was previously thought to be extinct, the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle.
The Siamese crocodile is generally considered one of the world’s most endangered reptiles. Cambodia’s Mekong River basin and wetlands hold the only remaining wild populations, unfortunately even these are scattered and diminished because of hunting and habitat loss.
Recent surveys in the Srepok River in Mondulkiri protected forest have found between 100 and 300 wild adults remain in this area. With more information being gained through research on the species coupled with the habitat protection on the Srepok River it is hoped the species can start to recover in numbers.
The elongated tortoise is unfortunately the most encountered species when confiscating animals in Mondulkiri province. They are quite common to be bred and kept domestically, although wild individuals are becoming increasingly endangered. They have a distinctive elongated shell, noticeably flatter than other tortoise species and often have a pale yellow coloured head.
They are endemic to the southern and eastern Mekong plains as well as the Cardamom Mountains. The species is under pressure from collection for the illegal pet and meat trade, but with thanks to groups such as WWF Cambodia the species is recovering in the Mondulkiri Eastern Plains.
Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle
Cantor’s giant softshell turtle is recognized by its broad head with eyes that sit close to the the snout giving it a frog-like appearance, and its name in Khmer is “Frog Head Turtle”.
Until its recent rediscovery they were thought to be extinct although through now Cambodia is believed to hold significant populations in its estuaries, swamps and mudflats with confirmed breeding pairs in the Mekong River.
The same as most softshell turtles, they are easily collected for the local and international illegal pet trade.
Endangered Fish in Cambodia
The Mekong River is home to some of the most magnificent fish species in the world. Unique species such as the Giant Mekong Catfish and Giant Freshwater Stingray live in the vast waters and deep pools along the Mekong River. In terms of fish diversity, the Mekong Basin is only eclipsed by the Amazon River whose basin is six times larger in size.
Giant Mekong Catfish
The Giant Mekong Catfish is a species that epitomizes the Mekong River and its incredible biodiversity. As one of the largest species of freshwater fish in the world, individuals can grow in excess of 300 kilograms.
It was previously found throughout the Mekong river system but now, due mainly to overfishing and habitat loss is only found in isolated populations mainly in Cambodia’s northern stretches of the river.
Like the Irrawaddy dolphin, it is officially one of the Mekong River’s flagship species, used as a monitor of the water and habitat quality of the river and all the many species that live there.
Giant Freshwater Stingray
The giant freshwater stingray is probably the biggest freshwater fish in the world with recorded individuals growing over 650 kilograms. Giant freshwater stingrays have been under rapid decline in Thailand, where the species is now listed as critically endangered.
Presently, not much research has been done on the population size in Cambodia with the most credible evidence of the species still coming from local fisherman reports. With population surveys planned, soon the giant Mekong catfish should be able to increase in numbers through suitable education and conservation initiatives.