Cambodia’s Mangrove Marvels: A Sanctuary’s Fight Against Extinction

One of the most comprehensive biodiversity surveys ever carried out in a mangrove forest has revealed that a surprising variety of wildlife lives in these key but highly threatened habitats

Hairy-nosed otters, large-spotted civets, long-tailed macaques, and fishing cats, along with a wide range of bat species—hundreds of different animals from birds to fish to insects have been identified during a major study in Cambodia’s Peam Krasop sanctuary and the adjacent Koh Kapik Ramsar site.

Conducted by Fauna & Flora International, the new surveys uncovered nearly 1,000 different species.

“We found 700 different species in these mangrove forests, but we suspect we have barely scratched the surface,” reports Stefanie Rog, the research group leader. “If we could examine the area even more thoroughly, I’m sure we would find ten times as many.”

The critical role of mangroves

Mangrove forests form dense, intricate strips of woodland along tropical and subtropical coasts. They are crucial because they include trees adapted to grow in saline or brackish water, which most other plants cannot tolerate. However, over the past few decades, the planet has lost about 40% of its mangroves, often cleared to make way for seaside resorts or agriculture.

Yet mangroves play a vital role in protecting the land and its inhabitants.

“We found young barracuda, snapper, and groupers in these waters,” explains Rog. “These are clearly important breeding grounds for fish and provide food for local communities, as well as supplying stocks for commercial fishing.”

Mangroves also protect inland areas from tsunamis and storms, trap carbon far more efficiently than other types of forests, and serve as a refuge for an extraordinary variety of animals.

@Fauna & Flora/FCEE

The fishing cat: an unusual resident of Cambodia’s mangroves

A key example of the unusual species found in Cambodian mangroves is the fishing cat, Prionailurus viverrinus. Slightly larger than a typical house cat, it is robustly built with short limbs and a stocky body and, unlike most other cats, is happy to swim. Its front paws are partially webbed and its claws protrude, aiding its ability to capture prey, mainly fish and rats, which it pursues while hidden among the mangrove roots.

“It’s very rare to see a fishing cat and we discovered it in the forest only through photographs taken by our camera traps,” said Stefanie Rog.

Another even rarer animal, the hairy-nosed otter, was photographed by camera traps in some of the oldest parts of the mangrove forest. “It’s the rarest otter in Asia and on the brink of extinction – and this is a real concern,” affirmed Rog:

A mangrove forest relies on all the interconnected relationships between species and if you start to take away some of those species, you slowly lose the functioning of the forest.

The survey, also supported by the Fishing Cat Ecological Enterprise, an environmental group, discovered 74 species of fish living in the forest waters, along with 150 bird species, 15 of which are listed as near threatened or endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Source: The Guardian

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