Born to be wild. That vintage 1960s song was running through all of our heads as we sped on motorcycles through a logging concession just south of Cambodia's newly protected Central Cardamom Protected Forest (CCPF). We hit 30 miles per hour on the red earth road but slowed to a crawl as our drivers navigated the steep rocky trail to our camp.
We were a small Rapid Assesment Program (RAP) team--only six scientists--in Cambodia to evaluate the diversity of mammals, birds, plants, reptiles and amphibians, and ants, my specialty. However, there was so much local interest in our work that we had 20 Khmer --assistants-- from CI-Cambodia, the Department of Forestry and Wildlife and the military police. They actually proved to be very good ant collectors as we documented about 100 ant species, including some that may be new to science.
I was excited to see two ant-plant associations that I had only read about. The first was the weaver ant, which uses the silk produced by its larvae to sew leaves together to make its nest. The second was a plant with a root system modified to house ants. In return for housing and food, the ants protect the plants against herbivorous insects.
Evidence of other wildlife was plentiful as well, despite the fact that the area had been heavily logged in the late 1990s. However, we found only a few species of forest-dwelling birds, indicating that the logging may have damaged their habitat.
CI's Global Conservation Fund supported the expedition and plans to use the RAP data to guide local investments.
CI-Cambodia and its partners will use the information to convince the government to cancel logging concessions and to convert them to protected areas, connecting the CCPF to Botum Sakor National Park to the south and creating a 4-million-acre conservation corridor. This is critical to protecting the seasonal migration routes of elephants and other wide-ranging mammals. It also will help preserve the habitat of the tiny creatures, like ants, which play a vital role in maintaining the health of the forest.