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 Mongabay.com. 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.

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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 Amazon.com. The Taipei Times reviewed the book, as did the Phnom Penh Post. I also did an interview with the environmental Web site Mongabay.com 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).

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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.

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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

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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: greg.mccann1@gmail.com And don’t forget to check out our Facebook page, Save Virachey National Park.

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