Camera traps often hold the key to conserving remote and wild places, they offer a glimpse into the secret and hidden world of the forest and nature untouched by people. In Vietnam they are helping to protect some of the best remaining tracts of tropical forest. A camera trapping project in a nature reserve in central Vietnam recently captured images of rare muntjac deer, in addition to a number of other endangered species, raising hopes for the state of biodiversity there.

The sightings took place in Phong Dien Nature Reserve in Thua Thien-Hue province, a rugged part of the Truong Son Mountains (known internationally as the Annamites) near Vietnam’s border with Laos.

The 110 cameras had been placed by the reserve’s management board and staff from the conservation NGO Viet Nature in an effort to capture the extremely rare Edwards’s pheasant (Lophura edwardsi).

Instead, the cameras took pictures of two muntjacs, as well as roughly 30 bird and mammal species such as the crested argus (Rheinardia ocellata), Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) and Owston’s palm civet (Chrotogale owstoni).

A crested argus (Rheinardia ocellata) in Ho Chi Minh City Zoo, Vietnam. Image by Diego Delso via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

While the precise muntjac species has not been officially announced yet, experts at the Saola Foundation for Annamite Mountains Conservation say they could be the Roosevelt’s muntjac (Muntiacus rooseveltorum). But the important thing is that they were spotted bt the cameras whatever the species turns out to be.

Lorraine Scotson who is the CEO ex officio of the Saola Foundation says; “Camera traps are actually a very inefficient way of detecting species that are at very low densities, you set up a camera on a tree and you have to rely not only on the animal walking past, but on the batteries not dying, the camera not being flooded, the picture not being blurry; there are so many ways a camera trap can fail, and only one way it can succeed. So if an animal is being detected on a camera trap, it’s the tip of the iceberg — it means that the population is at a high enough density to be captured, so it’s very encouraging.”

The sightings of the muntjacs and other wildlife further emphasize the importance of this nature reserve to biodiversity in central Vietnam and neighboring parts of Laos. The biodiversity and abundance of life in the forests of South East Asia and in particular the Annamite Mountains is staggering and reason for heavy investment in protection.

A conservation and program development director at WWF-Vietnam said; “Phong Dien remains a priority area for investment in the Central Annamites landscape since it still maintains populations of a range of endemic and threatened species, as well as being important for landscape forest connectivity. In intensive camera trapping conducted in 2018, several species which were not detected from other sites were detected in Phong Dien, suggesting that additional investment in the site would be valuable, the vagaries of detection notwithstanding.”

This particular nature reserve of Phong Dien was created on the 13th November 2002, and covers a large area (40,815 hectares (100,856 acres)) which an amazing 28,054 hectares (69,323 acres) is strictly protected from any human activity

Phong Dien was initially created in response to the 1996 rediscovery of the Edwards’s pheasant, which had been considered possibly extinct up to that point. However, no further live specimens have been seen since then, and the only more recent record was a 2018 photo of a dead female Edwards’s pheasant in A Luoi district, which includes part of the reserve.

The critically endangered Edward’s pheasant is endemic to the tropical rainforests of Vietnam. Image by cuatrok77 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Since then a total of 38 mammal species, 204 bird species, 35 reptile and amphibian species, and 755 plant species have been described in the reserve, many of which face a high risk of extinction, according to USAID. The Owston’s civet and Annamite striped rabbit are only found in these mountains, and their presence gives added significance to Phong Dien.

Given the lack of confirmed reports of Edwards’s pheasants since 1996, the species is not included in this list. As with any protected area in Vietnam, persistent threats remain both to forest health and biodiversity.

“Wildlife surveys conducted by WWF in 2018 showed that hunting using snares was still a major threat, as it is in most protected areas in the region,” Rawson said. “This threat has resulted in depleted populations of terrestrial wildlife that is susceptible to this kind of hunting.”

Habitat fragmentation is a concern as well, especially in river valleys, he added.

USAID notes that hydropower development, which is common in Vietnam’s mountainous regions, is a sustained threat to conservation as well: “Clearance of habitats, infrastructure development and hunting and wildlife consumption conducted by construction teams all contribute to impact the site’s values.”

The camera trap sightings are likely to spur increased attention from conservation groups and Phong Dien’s management team in an effort to confirm the presence of these species and ensure their protection.

“After some positive wildlife surveys in 2018, WWF-Vietnam will increase technical support to improve the management of the protected area over the coming years,” Rawson said. “We hope that with improved management and livelihood support to local communities, we will see wildlife populations starting to recover.”

Scotson said she hopes such discoveries make the general public more aware of this ecologically critical region.

“I bring attention to the Annamites, which are really like the unknown Amazon rainforest of Southeast Asia,” she said. “Very few people have heard of it. So pictures are extremely useful for awareness-raising, and if someone sees an Annamite striped rabbit on the BBC, that will stick with them.”

Royle Safaris has a range of wildlife watching and specialist mammal watching tours in Vietnam and other South East Asian countries and if you would like to know more you can visit our Vietnam Wildlife Holiday page or our Wildlife Watching Destination page for more Asian countries. Royle Safaris are world leaders in these specialist mammalwatching holidays, with expert guides and more time spent looking for targeted species than other tours, Royle Safaris is ideally situated to maximise mammal sightings and with our scientific background we are at the cutting edge of rare and elusive mammal sightings and can establish sustainable ecotourism in some of the best rare mammal watching destinations in the world.

If you would like to know more information about this Vietnam Mammal Watching Tours and other wildlife watching holidays and safaris in Asia you can contact us in addition to booking places on our small group tour we can also arrange private tours for any party size from 1 person on a solo trip to 10,  people on dates you choose (subject to availability).

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