Reptile found in Virachey Park, Cambodia.
The Indo-Burma region is an area of high amphibian and reptile diversity as well as increasing human pressure. Like most Cambodia wildlife, assessment was limited by the civil conflict. The 2004 Global Amphibian Assessment lists 135 species for Vietnam, 129 for Thailand, and 65 for Laos, but only 43 species for Cambodia. This is an indication of how little survey work has been done in the region rather than a sign of lower diversity.
Much like certain fish species, amphibians and reptiles are often the first to show signs of a weakened or changing ecosystem. They play important roles in the ecosystem, as both predators and prey, on land and in water. Many species have become highly adapted to specific habitats, either thriving or declining due to a variety of factors in the environment.
Reptiles and amphibians are also indicators of direct human threats to a habitat. A significant number of reptiles and amphibians are globally threatened by wildlife trade. In Cambodia, these animals are well represented in local folklore and superstitions and play a considerable role within Buddhist religion. Snakes, crocodiles, and turtles are often represented in art in Buddhist temples, and some temples keep live turtles and tortoises. Unfortunately, the protection offered to reptiles and amphibians by religious association is not enough to end the harvesting of species for food or medicinal purpose, the killing of snakes as a precaution against venomous species, and the loss of habitat to agriculture.
Amphibians are of particular conservation concern, as they are one of the most highly threatened groups of animals. One-third of all amphibian species are listed as globally threatened by the IUCN and almost half are known to be experiencing population declines. Currently, there is not enough information to determine how fast this decline is occurring in Asia, or why it is happening. Information on the distribution, basic biology, and conservation status is lacking for almost one-third of the amphibian species known in Indo-Burma. The lack of baseline information presents a serious challenge to assessing changes and understanding if and how large-scale declines and extinctions are happening in Asia.
Read more about the 2007 Expedition to Virachey Park, Cambodia.
The reptiles and amphibians, or herpetofauna, were investigated primarily through active searching. The team looked under rocks and logs, inside rotten wood, in holes, in leaf litter and topsoil, under moss and bark, in vegetation and hollow trees, and in streams, ponds, and marshes. Searches were conducted day and night.
Another method of finding herpetofauna is pitfall trapping. A plastic sheet is stretched across an area of habitat with the bottom 10 cm buried in the ground to form a barrier to animals. Buckets are then buried underneath the plastic sheeting at 10 m intervals and at each end, with the open top of the bucket flush with the ground and the plastic sheeting bisecting the top of each bucket. Pitfalls are checked for amphibians and reptiles at least twice a day.
The team took recordings of calling frogs, documented habitat data for each species, and collected specimen and genetic samples. They also swabbed the skin of many amphibians to determine if the amphibians at the site were infected with the potentially fatal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Bd causes the amphibian disease chytridiomycosis and has been identified on all continents where amphibians exist.
The survey recorded approximately 26 amphibian and 35 reptile species, some of which may be new to science and others which have not been recorded for Cambodia before. Many of the species found appear to be unique to the park, making Virachey a significant herpetological conservation priority.
Three of the reptile species found are classified as globally threatened:
- The Asiatic softshell turtle (Amyda cartilaginea)
- Asian giant pond turtle (Heosemys grandis)
- Impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa)
At the time of this writing, none of the amphibian species are properly classified yet, due to lack of data.
There are six species that may not have been seen in Cambodia before, though they are known elsewhere:
- A Horned Tree Lizard (Acanthosaura sp.)
- A Keelback (snake) (Amphiesma sp.)
- A Wolf Snake (Lycodon sp.)
- A Horned Frog (Ophyryophryne sp.)
- A Bushfrog (Philautus sp.)
- A frog (Taylorana sp.)
Taxonomic studies are currently under way to determine if three of the species found are in fact new to science. The species are:
- A Slender-toed Gecko (Crytodactylus sp.)
- A Water Skink (Tropidophorus sp.)
- A Bushfrog (Leptolalax sp.)
Download the full preliminary report: Cambodia Virachey Park 2007 Preliminary RAP Report (PDF - 3.63 MB)
Impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa)
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
One live adult Impressed tortoise was found during the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey, in bamboo forest within evergreen forest at around 800 m elevation. This rare tortoise lives in montane forest and feeds predominantly on fungi. It has only recently been found in Cambodia, in the Cardamom Mountains of southwest Cambodia, so it is extremely important that this species is now also confirmed to occur in Virachey National Park. Based on the habitat preference of this species, the range of this rare tortoise could cover the entire montane region of Virachey National Park. This area may therefore contain a globally significant population of Impressed tortoises.
Giant Asian pond turtle (Heosemys grandis)
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
This species had been tentatively confirmed to occur in northeast Cambodia based on ranger confiscation reports and market surveys. We found shell fragments (the carapace and plastron) of a small H. grandis at the new ranger outpost. It had apparently been captured in the nearby stream either by local police or rangers, and then eaten. The shell was measured and photographed. The presence of this shell indicates that the species occurs in lowland to mid-altitude streams, and also that it may be threatened in some areas through collection for food.
Asiatic softshell turtle (Amyda cartilaginea)
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
This aquatic turtle appears to be fairly common and widespread in Virachey National Park. Even on this short trip, several softshells were observed in the hill streams and larger rivers that abound in eastern Virachey. A large adult softshell was observed in a large river. It was feeding on fish that were trapped in the team’s fishing net. Two sub-adult softshells were also observed in deep pools in smaller streams. However, the rangers mentioned that the species is also harvested by Vietnamese poachers for food.
This species is collected in fairly high numbers across the region, always for food. The species can actually tolerate low levels of sustainable exploitation due to its ecology – it matures at a relatively early age and produces many eggs each year. However, the collection of many adult softshell turtles will rapidly destroy local populations.
Reticulated python (Python reticulatus)
This python has CITES II status due to its popularity both in the skin trade and the pet trade. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The species has suffered population crashes in many areas due to over-collection. However, it appears to be fairly common in Virachey National Park. Two sub-adult pythons (each approximately 1 m in length) were observed beside rivers in two different localities.
The results of this expedition show that Virachey National Park is a highly significant area for protecting populations of globally threatened turtles such as the Vulnerable Impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa
), Giant Asian pond turtle (Heosemys grandis
), and Asiatic softshell turtle (Amyda cartilaginea
). The montane forests and streams in Virachey National Park contain a wide variety of amphibian and reptile species. The fact that so many of the species identified on this survey have not been located in other similar habitats shows that much of the herpetofauna of Virachey National Park is very distinct from the herpetofauna of montane habitats west of the Mekong River, and therefore Virachey National Park adds significant value to the Cambodian protected area network by protecting a herpetofauna that is not found elsewhere in the country.
In addition, Virachey also contains potentially undescribed reptiles and amphibians, i.e. species which have not been recorded anywhere else in the world. Until the distribution and status of these species is better known, Virachey National Park will remain the only known locality of these species and is therefore of exceptionally high importance for reptile and amphibian conservation within the region. The results of this reptile and amphibian survey indicate a wealth of biodiversity and new species, and we can now state that Virachey is one of Cambodia's most important protected areas for herpetological conservation due to the globally threatened or apparently irreplaceable value of several species within its herpetofauna.