Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in the field with our Cambodia team and local partners in Prey Lang Forest. I traveled with photojournalist Allison Shelley, and Jon Bougher and Mauricio Ventura of Emic Films. They were on site to document our work in Cambodia protecting Asian elephants and other important wildlife.

We spent four days based at a remote field camp deep inside Prey Lang where we experienced the rainforest and some of its amazing biodiversity. We tracked wildlife while discussing urgent challenges and solutions for improved conservation. We met and talked with indigenous Kuy people who live in Prey Lang and rely on the forest for their livelihoods.

One small but important takeaway I came away with is: this is hard work. It’s easy enough to say we “monitor wildlife” and “strengthen protected area management” in a large tropical rainforest, with myriad pressures from development and unsustainable forest management. This trip to Prey Lang renewed my appreciation for our team and partners who are working in often difficult conditions to deliver effective conservation. Here I share a few insights and images from our journey.

Mekong River on edge of Prey Lang Forest (left); Emic Film Team (Jon Bougher, Mauricio Ventura), Photojournalist Alison Shelley, Wild Earth Allies Cambodia Director, Tuy Sereivathana (Vathana) (right).

We embarked from the provincial town of Stung Treng, which is a commercial hub on the banks of the Mekong River. After a short drive downstream, we crossed the river. The Mekong supports an amazing amount of biodiversity, including fish resources that feed 75% of Cambodia’s population. Prey Lang Forest forms a critical catchment area for the Mekong watershed.

Departing Siem Bouk village on motorbikes with field gear (left); River crossing with field gear, Prey Lang Forest (right).

After crossing the river, we staged the next leg of our trip from the small village of Siem Bouk. There we loaded our equipment, including camp supplies for four days in the forest, on the backs of our motorbikes. We passed through a progression of cultivated areas on the periphery of Siem Bouk. Next, we moved through beautiful wooded grasslands as the landscape transitioned towards the forest.

Wooded grasslands inside Prey Lang landscape (left); Right: Vathana visiting local agricultural community on way to Prey Lang Forest (right).

The paths through the forest were mostly passable as the rains give way to the dry season. Just moving through the landscape to our destination was extremely challenging and arduous at times. After several hours of travel, we entered the deep forest. It was magical to experience the sounds and immense beauty of this dense forest, which is one of most important lowland rainforests of southeast Asia.

Immense lowland evergreen tree inside Prey Lang Forest (left); Path through the forest (right).

The field camp is strategically located near a small stream and provides easy access to three mineral salt lick sites where we’ve set up camera traps for monitoring wildlife.

Our journey into the forest and our stay at the field camp would not have been possible without our guides, who are Kuy people from Siem Bouk. Their knowledge of the forest, and skills in navigating this landscape (and generating their livelihoods from the forest) were inspiring.

Vathana with Kuy alderman Ben Svay, and field team assistants.

Throughout our journey, we were fortunate to experience the traditional culture of the Kuy people and their life in Prey Lang. Our team maintains a close connection with these local partners, who are also stewards of the forest. They derive great energy from these relationships and interactions. Indeed, our conservation strategies, such as monitoring key wildlife species and conducting forest patrols, are dependent on our close connections with these local communities and with our government partners.

Field camp inside Prey Lang Forest (left); Jon Bougher and Vathana at field camp with field assistants (right).

We are excited to share the amazing photography from Allison and a production coming soon from Emic Films, capturing our approach of conserving important biodiversity and benefiting local communities. Stay tuned for more in this blog series documenting our work in Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest.

Mauricio photographing forest canopy (left); Emic Film Team (Jon Bougher, Mauricio Ventura), Photojournalist Allison Shelley, Wild Earth Allies Cambodia Director, Tuy Sereivathana (Vathana); Program Manager Neang Thy, and Conservation Director Adam Henson (right).

Our Cambodia program is led by Goldman Environmental Prize winner and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Tuy Sereivathana (Vathana), who is building on 20+ years of successful community-based Asian elephant conservation.

Consider supporting this effort. Donate today.