The Cardamom Mountain Landscape in south-west Cambodia comprises c. 2 million ha of tropical forest and is the only contiguous area in Indochina sufficiently large (> 4,400 km2) for the long-term viability of Asian elephants (Hedges, 2008, Report to USFWS). Since 1999 Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working with the Cambodian Government to recover this globally important elephant population. Part of FFI's conservation efforts include population monitoring using camera traps. Beginning in December 2016 we set 51 camera traps to monitor the core elephant population of c. 45 individuals within the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary and Southern Cardamom National Park in the southern Cardamom Mountain Landscape, and an additional seven camera traps in Kirrirom National Park, to monitor a small subpopulation in the far south-east of this Landscape.
We obtained photographs and videos of 15 different groups of elephants in the core area, of 2–9 individuals, and of another group of six individuals in the Kirrirom subpopulation. We identified seven individual calves (< 1 year old), of which four had severe leg injuries from what appeared to be wire snares around the base of their legs. Additionally, our camera traps showed two adult and one subadult male elephants with trunk injuries and lacerations that appeared to have been caused by snares. In September 2017 local villagers found a carcass of an elephant calf that reportedly died from a snare wound. A calf in Moldulkiri province in eastern Cambodia died in July 2016 of an infection from a snare wound similar to those observed in our camera-trap videos.
We are concerned that wire snares could be causing unnaturally high calf mortality, jeopardizing the recovery of this critically important elephant population. These wire snares were not set for elephants but for capturing wildlife (e.g. the sambar Cervus unicolor, wild pig Sus scrofa, red munjtac Muntiacus muntjak, and the bears Ursus malayanus and Ursus thibetanus) for the illegal bushmeat market. There are ongoing efforts to remove snares. In 2015 > 27,000 snares were removed from the Southern Cardamom National Park, yet snaring appears to be increasing (Gray et al., 2018, Biodiversity Conservation, 27, 1031–1037)—another example of the pervasive threat that the bushmeat trade poses to wildlife.
Funding for this work was generously provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, International Elephant Foundation, Australia Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and Elephant Family Foundation.