Djanghael to Jungle by Ivan Sanderson


“Real” jungle in Cambodia’a Virachey National Park

On the second-to-last day of 1865 a weak-eyed, not very robust Englishman chanced to be born in Bombay. That utterly unremarkable circumstance a hundred years ago conditions the ideas most people cherish today about jungles, for the Englishman was Rudyard Kipling, one of the world’s favorite storytellers.

Like a lot of others, he wrote “jungle” when he meant any of the tropical forests which cover about one-seventh of the earth’s land surface. Also, like a lot of others before and after him, he knew nothing at first hand about the most magnificent, majestic, mysterious of these forests. He took them as the setting for his stories just because he was not familiar with them and they had for him the romance of the unknown.

Why anyone would apply this word to any kind of forest is explainable only by a not uncommon English disregard for fact and logic that drives language students mad. By Kipling’s time, “jungle” had been used to cover a lot of territory and was hallowed out by those British Army types he so dearly loved and celebrated in his songs and stories.

As anyone who reads the tales must know, the English officer and gentleman is an ardent huntsman. His leisure at home and abroad is devoted to the chase of whatever miserable animal happens to live in the nearest countryside. Neither rain nor wind nor snow, heat nor cold, mountain nor desert can halt his pursuit of wild game. And when the devious politics of empire-building drew British military types known as “political officers” into Persia, almost the first question they asked was: “Where is the best hunting?”

The answer was that gazelles could be found among the sparse, thorny growth of the Persian plains, a near-desert for which the local name was “djanghael.” Adapted to the simplicity of the English tongue, it soon became part of the common speech of these particular gentlemen, who began to talk about going for a spot of hunting in “the jungle.”

Gradually, their private name for a hunting ground spread until it became a mark of anyone who had served the British in this part of the world. The men who used it apparently forgot its origin, or maybe they didn’t care.

The word cropped up next in the hot hills of Sind in Pakistan, to which a lot of these chaps were transferred. The terrain was very much like that to which they had grown accustomed in Persia and was inhabited by lion, cheetah and other quarry considered to be a gentleman’s legitimate prey. The intrepid Englishman hunted there happily enough, although they disliked the dust and heat and cursed the “abominable jungle.”

2013-01-20 10.22.20

Local Lao and Kavet people in the jungle of Virachey NP, Cambodia


Transferred again, many of them to India, they moved gradually southward through that varied subcontinent until they reached the Western Ghats, the range of hills stretching in both directions from Bombay. Here there is genuine tropical evergreen rain forest of tall, column-like trees with such thick foliage at the top that it is called “closed canopy.” They saw more of it as their missions of Empire took them along to southern India and Ceylon and across to Burma where some of them went to look after the teakwood business.

In all these places, they went hunting. The country could hardly had differed more from Persia to Sind, but when they became ensnarled and snagged in a lush growth of vegetable things, they damned “the jungle.” Furthermore, almost every British Indian Army colonel published a book about his experience in “The East.” Since he wrote a lot about his hobby, he used “jungle” over and over again as he told in great detail and with much gusto how he had pursued this or that luckless animal. Eventually the word caught on in England and spread from there all over the world.

The existence of these tropical forests had been known for hundreds of years, of course, but hardly anyone had actually entered them. (The hunters knew only their fringes.) Men had passed around them and floated through them on rivers. Primitive tribes and civilized peoples had lived on the edges. But none of them knew what it was like inside. The forests were there, but that was all anyone could say, just as in another extreme of climate the icecaps are known and seen from outside, but neither Eskimo nor European adventurers penetrated their caps.



(Above: a Red-shanked Douc Langur comes down to check to see if the Earth is still there in Virachey National Park, Cambodia).

The British hunters in “the jungle” were scarcely learned men, and their name for the forest was never adopted by science as a description of anything. Scientists, in fact, think the word is as meaningless as “dinosaur,” invented by a French savant to describe any and all large fossil reptiles which are, or area thought to be, extinct. Dinosaur is simply  a popular title for a host of different things, and “jungle” fell into the same class.

To men like Kipling, however, “jungle” had a romantic sound, and his readers were perfectly happy with the world of his imagination. In it he placed not only all the plants and animals he had ever seen, but others of which he had only heard, whether or not they were typical of jungles, or even could live in there. In “The Jungle Book,” Mowgli’s adoption by wolves begins this lighthearted catalogue of marvels. India has its wolf packs, to be sure, but they would no more enter a jungle than they would invade a crowded city, for wolves are woodland creatures in this part of the world.

Kipling’s jungles were a never-never land which was so vividly described that readers took it for the real thing, and found it so fascinating and memorable that they passed the myths along to people who do not read. Perhaps some of these were the makers of the famous Tarzan films. They took much of Kipling’s lore and added to it a variety of even more absurd possibilities.


-from Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles

Check out the new video compilation from the depths of Virachey…!

A rare clouded leopard walks by one of our cameras in riparian forest in the Veal Thom Grasslands

A rare clouded leopard walks by one of our cameras in riparian forest in the Veal Thom Grasslands

And if you can, drop a little spare Paypal change in our “Make a Donation” button down below…!

Lesser adjutant

Lesser adjutant

Leopard cat near the Gan Yu River

Leopard cat near the Gan Yu River

A Siamese fireback poses for our camera!

A Siamese fireback poses for our camera!

Donations are needed to keep this project afloat. Any help would be great appreciated 

Appeal to save Cambodia’s greatest wilderness

Where and What is Virachey National Park?

UPDATE: A “must read”: my trekking partner Howie Nielsen -a professional ornithologist- from the recent expedition to the Yak Yeuk Grasslands has published a tremendous trip report with Have a look. And have a look at the gibbon video that I just embedded down at the bottom; I recorded that one while still in my hammock one morning (see below).

And here is a promotional video that I just put together. I regret to say that the subtitles are not working the way they do when I watch this in Picassa, but some nice music and pics all the same: 

Virachey National Park (VNP) straddles Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces in Northeastern Cambodia. It is ringed by a wild mountainous border region in Laos called Nam Kohng Provincial Protected Area (NKPPA) and Vietnam’s Kontum Province. Sections of Virachey are also contiguous with Dong Ampham National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Attapeu, Laos, as well as with Chu Mom Ray National Park in Vietnam. The Tri-Border Area is one of the last true wilderness areas of Indochina; in fact, a former park ranger refers to Virachey as “Asia’s Last Forest.”

Large sections of the park along the Vietnamese border have, sadly, been sold off to agricultural developers, mainly for rubber plantations. Exact figures are difficult to come by, but it seems that possibly as much as one third of the park (again, mainly near Vietnam) has been reclassified as “rubber land.” The only scientific attempt at  biodiversity assessment was back in 2007 when Conservation International helicoptered in a group of researchers. After that, the Royal Cambodian Government (RCG) announced that they were going to allow Indochine Ltd. to explore for minerals throughout 95% of the park. Taken aback, the World Bank dropped its 5-year, multi-million dollar conservation and ecotourism program. Strangely, Haling-Halang Mountain (the destination target of our 2014 expedition) is, according to Indochine’s maps, off-limits to exploration -as are most of the rest of the mountains that form the wild international boundary with Laos.

logger 4

an illegal logger transporting Siamese rosewood on the O-Pong River inside Virachey

Who am I?

My name is Greg McCann and I first became interested in VNP when I became a PhD student at Tamkang University in Taipei, Taiwan. I wanted to study traditional animism to see how it linked up with modern environmental philosophies and I learned that the “highlander” or indigenous people of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces were still mainly animists. Then I also learned about the 7-day trek to the Veal Thom Grasslands, a trek which required an indigenous porter as well as a park ranger/translator. With this in mind, set off on a 26-day trip through Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, with my week in Virachey being the highlight.. I wrote a book about my three trips to Veal Thom and my attempts to reach the sacred Haling-Halang Mountains on the Laos border. The book is titled Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journey to the Green Corridor and is available on The Taipei Times reviewed the book, as did the Phnom Penh Post. I also did an interview with the environmental Web site which you can find here.

I have just recently returned from a 12-day trek to the Yak Yeuk Grasslands/Mera Mountain Area of the park (see photo of Mera Mountain below).

2013-01-23 17.23.49

Mera Mountain is part of the Yak Yeuk Grasslands landscape, a remote corner of the park that sits just 3 kilometers or so from Laos

What can you do to help? 

I am taking donations to help pay for a 17-day expedition to the Haling-Halang mountain massif in Virachey in January 2014. I need to procure: 15-20 motion-triggered camera traps, and various fees to porters and park rangers. In addition, because the cameras need to be kept up on the mountain for 3-4 months, I need to pay a team to return to Haling-Halang to retrieve the cameras in April 2014. I estimate the final price take of my share of the expedition, plus equipment, plus the retrieval of the equipment, to be around $7,500. I don’t have this much spare change, but this expedition must be carried out if Virachey is to have a shot at getting the attention that it deserves.

2013-01-24 11.25.17-2

This is me standing atop Mera Mountain in January 2013.

More photos:

savanna hills of Veal Thom

savanna hills of the Veal Thom Grasslands in the center of Virachey NP

end of the 2011 expedition

our crew at the end of the 2011 attempt to reach Haling-Halang via the Gan-Yu River


illegal logging for rosewood is rampant throughout the park

skeletal remains of a poched Sambar deer

bones from a poached Sambar deer. The Ban Lung market is filled with wild game meat: deer, pigs, and sometimes lizards and more

recently poached porcupine. this has to stop

recently poached porcupine. this has to stop

the porcupine was cooked after its organs were removed

the porcupine was cooked after its organs were removed

this is fresh dung from a Clouded leopard. We found a 2nd pile about 50 meters away, indicating that a pair were probably traveling together. There is still so much left to save in this park

this is fresh dung from a Clouded leopard. We found a 2nd pile about 50 meters away, indicating that a pair were probably traveling together. There is still so much left to save in this park

this summit of this mountain is the goal of the January 2014 expedition. Tigers, elephants, and even rhinos are said by villagers to call this place home. We will leave as many camera traps as we can raise money to buy on this massif

this is Haling-Halang (the highest peak in the distance), and the summit of this mountain is the goal of the January 2014 expedition. Tigers, elephants, and even rhinos are said by villagers to call this place home. We will leave as many camera traps as we can raise money to buy on this massif

For more pics, please feel free to have a look at my Facebook photo album about my recent trek to the Yak Yeuk Grasslands and Mera Mountain. Here is a public link. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at: And don’t forget to check out our Facebook page, Save Virachey National Park.