Posts Tagged ‘sambar’
Two stolen cams and a female elephant in the dense bush on Dec. 30, 2016…!!
An Indochinese tiger passes my Nikon D700 DSLR camera trap on 8/13/2016 – 6:24 AM…!
As most of my friends know, I went to the USA back in September 2016 to do a road trip and my first ‘bucket list’ visiting the Grand Canyon, Zion, Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks respectively, and then up into Canada. It was a great trip and I was able to tick those items off my list. I returned to Thailand on Nov. 15th and it took me sometime before I could get into the forest to check my camera traps.
A young bull elephant taking in minerals…!
Before I left, I set four DSLR traps, and three video cams where I usually work in the ‘Western Forest Complex’ northwest of Bangkok. Over the years, this place has proven very productive capturing photos of tigers and other cryptic creatures in the wild forests found here. Thailand’s natural legacy is still thriving and I have some remarkable images of nature on file.
A banteng bull bolts as the cam’s flashes go off…!
Unfortunately, lady luck decided to look the other way. Two videos (a Bushnell Trophy Cam and a ‘Fireman Jim’ DXG 125-day only cam) were stolen by poachers (or some other dishonest and very undesirable people) which of course was a shock to me…I’ve been working in this sanctuary for more than 20 years and never lost anything…I was proud of this fact and record. So it’s back to the drawing board to improve the possibility of theft. I have ‘elephant proofing’ down pat but a new design to double-up the security of all my cams is needed (extra work for me) and I will post this at a later date.
A pair of banteng cows bolt from the mineral deposit…!
So I decided to move out of the area and not set any camera traps here for now. But there is a hot-spring close by with a blind set up to facilitate photography through the lens. This natural place has tiger and leopard that roam around and it is here 18 years ago, that I photographed a black leopard up at the mineral deposit. I got my Nikon D4s with a 200-400mm lens and tripod, and a Nikon D3000 with a Tamron 70-200mm lens ready plus some snacks, water, camo material plus my pistol (remember elephant country) and hiked in about a kilometer to the blind. On the way in, I bumped into a wild elephant camp with fresh tracks and poop all over the place. A big herd was nearby…!
A young sambar stag in the morning…!
As usual, I just moved through and then sat in the blind that afternoon collecting some nice shots of barking deer and a young male peafowl shown here. Around 6pm, I packed-up for the walk back to the truck. About 100 meters down the track, I saw a big elephant on the trail…oh poop, my trail back to the truck was blocked and I certainly was not going to put my life in jeopardy (mother’s with small baby elephants or big tusk-less bulls means certain death). I turned back towards the blind and there was another smaller jumbo behind me.
A pair of sambar does late at night…!
This was serious as it seemed I was surrounded by the herd. So the only thing was to pop-off a round in the air with my Colt Government .38 Super Auto which brought out a roar from the big one down on the trail but the little one fled into the bush. I rushed back to the blind and threw down my chair and some trash in a plastic bag, and then hauled butt up another hill with a trail back to my parked truck. Up I went and it was rough going but I continued on. After about 20 minutes of thrashing around, it turned dark. With my headlamp on, I still struggled to find a trail. I got the shock of my life when I bumped into a huge female elephant not more than 6 meters away. She snorted at me and made a short mock charge but some small trees and saplings stopped her short. My pistol was out again and I let off another round in the air, and then yelled for her to Go, Go, Go as loud as I could.
A very old tapir taking in minerals…!
I was lucky as she was alone, and squealed high-tailing it in the opposite direction. I let out a sigh of relief and took stock…I had my iPhone and turned on the compass and went west. I then found a worn path back to a mineral deposit at the front near the road and eventually my truck. Now that was a close call and one that I do not want to repeat.
Muntjac (barking deer) pair at the hot-springs in mid-afternoon…!
It was about 8pm before I got going. About 10 kilometers down the track back to camp, I took a wrong turn and ran over a huge bolder getting stuck. Had to winch myself over it (just replaced a broken cable a few days before – lucky). I got back to camp arriving about 9pm. At the station, had a few sundowners to calm my nerves and then it was straight to bed. I had to go back to the blind the next morning to pick-up my camp chair and that rubbish I had left behind the night before. As I went through the mineral deposit, the elephants had retreated to the deep bush and I passed through without incident..!
A female muntjac jumping in front of a young male peafowl in display…!
I then left the area and went to where I had set the four DSLRs. During the time I was in the States, my D700 performed extremely well. Got a tiger a few days after I set the cam in late Aug. 2016. Also, got banteng (wild cattle), elephant and sambar and barking deer plus an old tapir. The other three cams did not work at all and I got nothing (primarily battery problems). One of the D700’s flashes and the sensor got ripped up by elephants as I did not have a sturdy tree to attached them to and just laid them on the ground (big mistake). The other flash and the D700 were fine having attached with lag bolts to a tree. I will be setting this D700 nearby at another deposit with a bigger tree…!!
All that’s left of a Bushnell Trophy Cam…!
All in all, getting the tiger was a plus even though it’s not a very nice photograph with leaf shadow on its face from the flash on the ground. As soon as time permits, I’ll be setting more DSLRs at my favorite places before a scheduled trip to India in late-February…! Finally, I want everyone to know that I carry a pistol for protection, and as a noise-maker when necessary as in this case. I might not have made it back on the 30th December if I did not have my sidearm…!!
All that’s what is left of a ‘Fireman Jim’ DXG 125 video cam: Opened by humans and then bent by elephants…!
Following is a gallery of elephants by camera trap and through the lens…!!
This is what they call a ‘Tuskless Bull’…taller and bigger than a tusker…!
A family unit has just left the hot-spring close to where I was sitting….they were about 100-yards away…!
Bumping into one of these guys or gals at night can be scary…!
And they can ring your neck and that’s be all she wrote…!
A youngish elephant at the old ‘tiger log’…!
A young tusker and female on a trail in the bush at night…!
Even a very young bull could wreck havoc if you bumped into him deep in the bush…!
The ‘tiger hunter’ setting one of his cams in the ‘Western Forest Complex’…!
For the most part, wild elephants will flee at the first sight or smell of humans. However, there are exceptions and many a trekker, poacher and ranger has met their fate with a mother and infant, or an old mean bull. The best option is to climb a tree but this is not always possible. Running uphill is another way to escape these beasts if they are determined to stomp you…I always pray to the forest spirits not to bump into the jumbos period….life is too short…!!
Satpura National Park and Tiger Reserve
A mugger crocodile in the Denwa River of Satpura Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh, Central India. This very mature reptile is estimated to be 4-meters long..!
After leaving Pench tiger reserve in the East, a break was in need. It was a quick two-hour taxi ride straight south to the large city of Nagpur in the State of Maharashtra. I stayed overnight at a very nice hotel with foreign and Indian cuisine. After almost two weeks of local food, I was ready for some European fare that evening. The next morning, breakfast was superb.
A leopard resting in deep cover. It was difficult to get a clean shot…!
Then it was a six-hour taxi drive to Satpura National Park and Tiger Reserve in the south-central area of Madhya Pradesh State. I arrived in the late afternoon and settled in at the Denwa Backwater Escape lodge five minutes from the boat pier on the reservoir. The tiger reserve was on the opposite side of the Denwa River that was dammed some 60 kilometers down stream.
A bull gaur close to the road in the reserve. These ungulates are prey species for the tiger…!
The next morning, my naturalist Chin was at the meeting point at 5.30am sharp and 30 minutes later after formalities, we were in a boat for the three-minute trip across the lake. Landing on the opposite shore, we jumped into a Suzuki/Maruti jeep for the first morning’s safari. As we moved into the hinterland, sambar and spotted deer were seen plus glimpses of a sloth bear. Later that morning, we bumped into a large gathering of jeeps meaning a big cat was about. It took some jockeying to see a leopard sleeping in the bush. Although the sighting was neat, good photos were tough to get but I did manage to get a few acceptable ones.
Two young gaur head-butting in an ‘eye-to-eye’ confrontation…!
For the next three days, we crossed the reservoir going on jeep safari in the morning and afternoon. On the last morning, I opted for a boat safari into the lake to look for crocodiles and large wading birds and ducks. A grey heron was my first target just as the sun was peeping from behind the morning fog. Later, some woolly-neck storks plus bar-headed geese and Indian river terns were the next targets. But my main objective was to get a crocodile out of the water on its basking spot. We saw two mugger crocs but they slithered into the water before we could get close. The water-safari closed at 10am and I was running out of time.
Mugger crocodile enjoying the mid-morning sun adjusting its temperature…!
Ten minutes before the dock, we saw a huge croc basking with its mouth wide-open. We immediately turned left and headed straight for it. I started cranking my Nikon D300s with a 200-400 VRII lens on a tripod and we actually caught the reptile in a trance as it was soaking in the warmth of the morning sun. We got fairly close. Then it sensed us and got up walking a few steps while I kept on shooting, and then slipped below. Now that’s some serious luck just a mere 10 minutes from the boat dock and the end of my safari. I had just captured one of the oldest living creatures on the planet going back to the Triassic Era when crocodiles had just began to evolve some 200 million years ago and out-living the dinosaurs. It was a fitting end to my 20-day safari to the forests of Madhya Pradesh in Central India.
Asian wild dog or ‘dhole’. These creatures in a pack are the most feared of all the predators in the Indian forest…!
Conclusion: As we move into the 21st Century, many things continue to hack away at nature. Excessive tourism has had a detrimental effect in some of the parks and its wildlife. In particular, the madness that goes on when a tiger is sighted. After traveling through some seven tiger reserves so far, the phenomena of seeing other people with a ‘long-face’ has become an ever-increasingly common occurrence when no tiger had been sighted. However, this is a problem when one is sighted: most people go berserk trying to get a photo of the big cat mostly with their smart phones. This has been dramatic as talking and screaming goes on and the drivers push each other (sometimes crashing into one another) to get a shot of the striped cat. Some may disagree, but I say the tigers are now becoming smarter and avoid the big jeep-crowds that invariably build up quickly. The big cats just melt into the forest and sometimes disappear for the day. They surely walk the roads at night as their tracks can be found everywhere when on morning safari.
Excessive anything is sure to have cause and effect. Tiger tourism has become a big money business and as more hotels and lodges spring-up around the tiger reserves like mushrooms, invariably more people will be pushed into the parks to see the almighty tiger. Limitation is the only answer that works but mandates to minimize the effect on too much tourism are overlooked by most who make money at it.
And the recent scandal incriminating ‘Ustad T-24, a wonderful tiger from Ranthambore National Park and Tiger reserve by the local forest authorities has done some serious damage to the reputation of India’s wildlife conservation programs. This resident male tiger was unjustly accused of killing a forest guard and then illegally moved to a zoo where he is near death after medical teams removed mud from his stomach probably picked up from throwing meat on the dirt for him to eat. He was also paraded around as a man-eating tiger, and zoo visitation jumped more than 100%. Not a nice situation for any wild animal
At the end of the day, I did get some really great photographs of tiger, leopard, crocodile and other Indian creatures on this trip but my outlook has changed ever so slightly concerning the senseless hordes of jeeps chasing after tigers and leopards in these parks. Can they sustain an ever-increasing tourist presence, as is the case of ‘tiger tourism’ today? Only time will tell but if you want to see the big striped cat, India is still the best place to see this magnificent predator as one of Mother Nature’s greatest creatures.
I have one more trip to India planned for March-April, 2016. I will be going to a wildlife sanctuary near Corbett tiger reserve to do some camera trapping. Then it will be across country by train (in fact most of the travel this time will be by train) to the Blackbuck National Park after some beautiful antelopes, and then back across to Panna tiger reserve that lost all their tigers awhile back and was restocked from Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Then it’s on to Pench once more. Finally, it’s up to collect my camera traps and back to Delhi for the flight back to Thailand. That’s the plan and I look forward to catch a few more species for my up-coming book on wildlife from Africa and Asia. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading about my trip to India as much as I have enjoyed seeing and photographing nature up-close.
Last month I posted some photos collected from my BFOutdoors P41 trail cam and decided to leave it for one more set. The following pics are what the great little trail cam has captured. Of note: I got four captures of a black leopard which is simply amazing….plus I two Indochinese tigers…I have moved this cam to another location further up the road and have installed my Canon 600D on the tree across from the daytime black leopard shot so that could also be interesting when I visit in a few days…two deer species and a banteng also crossed in front of the P41…Enjoy..!
A black leopard in the afternoon: A Canon 600D is setup on the tree opposite the leopard…!
A female tiger at night.
A male tiger in late afternoon.
Another black leopard capture.
A male muntjac (barking deer).
Male muntjac again.
A banteng crossing in the daytime.
A young sambar stag in velvet.
Some old camera trap shots of wildlife in Southern Thailand
Limestone ‘karst’ mountains at sunset in Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 2009, I decided to go down south to a wildlife sanctuary that was still teaming with animals common to the wet tropical forests found here. Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Surat Thani province is some 500 miles from Bangkok and is one of the top protected areas in the country.
Flooded forest near the headwaters deep in Khlong Saeng.
Once upon a time, this forest was a magnificent natural watershed that provided water throughout the year to the inhabitants of the lowlands on the eastern side of the Thai peninsula.
Clouded leopard at the entrance to a limestone cave probably searching for dead bats.
It still harbors some very impressive animals such as elephant, gaur, tapir, serow, sambar, clouded leopard, sun bear, Great Argus (second largest of the pheasant family in Thailand), and the mighty king cobra to name just a few – and the list goes on.
A serow (goat-antelope) at the same cave.
Probably the most impressive scenic site in the sanctuary are the massive limestone ‘karst’ formations that were formed sometime during the mid to late Permian over 200 million years ago. Thailand was part of Gondwanaland that was still attached to Pangaea, the ‘Supercontinent’.
A serow at another location at the top of a limestone ‘karst’ mountain.
These colossal outcrops, some reaching as high as 960 meters (3,150 feet), look almost ‘architectural’ in design. These configurations were thrust up when India crashed into the Asian plate some 60 million years ago, and are the remnants of a prehistoric coral reef that once thrived here.
An old tapir up near a cave at the top of a limestone massif.
But in the mid-1980s, a drastic change to the Pasaeng River was to come about. To increase Thailand’s electrical power needs, and back when building hydroelectric dams was in vogue, it was decided by the Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), a state enterprise, and the government, to construct the Rajaprabha Dam that eventually inundated a total of 165 square kilometers (65 sq. miles) of the Khlong Saeng valley to become the Chiew Larn reservoir in 1986.
A tapir calf with its mother in the forest near the headwaters.
The water body extends into the sanctuary for more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) but is only about two kilometers at its widest point. As the reservoir filled up, thousands and thousands of trees and animals perished in the rising waters. It was destruction of a natural habitat in the name of modernization.
A tapir with clipped ears; probably nipped by a mature female chasing the young one out.
Awhile back, my friend Greg McCann, founder of ‘Habitat ID,’ a NGO setup to investigate forests in Southeast Asia contacted me. He was interested in starting a camera trap program somewhere in Thailand and Khlong Saeng was chosen as the first forest to see what is still thriving there.
A gaur calf on the trail up on a limestone mountain.
We have just returned from the sanctuary where eight cameras including one DSLR (Nikon D90), a Sony W55 ‘home brew’ and six Bushnell Trophy Cams were set-up in some of the areas where I previously captured some amazing animals.
A very old bull gaur with its hooves in poor condition…!
We will let these cams soak for two-three months and I will be going back then to see what has transpired. It should be interesting…!
A couple of young gaur in the mountainous forest.
When I first began visiting the area, I took my boat-blind (kayak with pontoons and electric trolling motor as a stable shooting platform) to navigate the waters and shoreline.
Another young gaur on a trail up in the limestone mountains.
Over the course of two years, I was able to get some really neat images of the wildlife that had adapted to the new environment. I also began a camera trap program to see what cryptic animals were thriving up in the evergreen forest.
A mature sambar stag on a trail in the forest.
A mature male muntjac (barking deer) on a wildlife trail.
A female muntjac with white spots along the spine and rear torso: a strange anomaly…!
A stump-tail macaque (monkey) up in the limestone crags with its jowls full of food.
An Argus pheasant at the mouth of a cave.
This gallery of shots is just some of the creatures collected over a two-year period (2009-2010). Some of these images are not the greatest but do show the biodiversity of this amazing place. I plan on setting up several DSLRs at these old camera trap locations and will post any new images down the road. Enjoy…!
These camera trap photos were collected between 2002 to 2006.
My second tiger in Sai Yok National Park, Western Thailand.
When I began camera trapping back in 2002, Camtrakker® and Trailmaster® camera trap units were about all that was out there for researchers and photographers. As these units started to show-up here and be deployed, I watched these commercial units be destroyed by the harsh environment of the Thai forest that gobbled these early trail cameras and spat out the remains. They were kind of expensive too..!
My first tiger in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Southwest Thailand.
This male tiger was very photogenic.
Many things happen in the forest but the big destroyer of these traps were elephants for the most part. If the plastic boxes got bashed about, they went down the tubes very quickly after that. The humidity can get to 100 percent sometimes and anything not sealed tightly is a goner.
The next tigers were camera trap down by the river in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
Poachers who do not want their image taken will usually just steal the plastic units that were attached to trees with nylon straps, bungee cords and rope. Sometimes, they would just vandalize the unit by setting fire to them or breakthe glass and fill the trap with water.
The following tiger came back around three months in a row and was identified by the stripe on its shoulder.
Needless to say, I decided to build my own traps housed in aluminum that could be tightly attached to a tree and be totally waterproof. The internals were mostly Olympus and Canon film ‘point and shoots’ hooked-up to a local-made sensor board. It took awhile to get the first ones going and feral cats that walked a wall behind my shop provided good subjects to test the first batch of cams. It took me sometime to get my first tiger but after that, I saw loads of the striped cats on film.
Tiger abstracts in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
An Asiatic sun bear at the same tree in Kaeng Krachan.
Leopards in Kaeng Krachan.
The following leopards were camera trapped in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
Other mammals found in Kaeng Krachan.
A male serow, a goat-antelope found in mountainous terrain (relative of the ‘Rocky Mountain Goat’).
A herd of gaur; the largest bovid in the world on the move.
Sambar stags; the largest deer in Southeast Asia.
Elephant herd at a mineral deposit.
A feral cat camera trapped with one of my first cams behind my work shop. This was back in 2002.
Many have not seen these photos so I thought I would share them with you. It was great times but not easy working with these old film-cams. You never knew what was on the roll of slide film (Fuji Provia 400) until it was sent to the lab. Digital cams have made life so much easier for us camera trappers. This is just some of the shots I got back then. Enjoy…!
After downloading the card on my Canon 400D DSLR trail cam, there was no tiger but this sambar doe and a young tusker had showed up tripping the sensor just past the log. The 50mm lens seems to be OK if a leopard or tiger were to come through…I’m still waiting patiently…! The first shot is a crop to see what is possible at this location..
Some first images of a sambar stag and doe off-trail
A sambar stag in mid-stride.
A sambar doe with the tell-tale lesion on the neck.
A couple months ago, I finished my Sony A-500 trail cam housed in a Pelican 1120 and mounted horizontally. There is no battery grip but two 18650 4.2 volt lithium batteries are used as externals. The camera is fitted with a Sony 28mm lens and a Snapshotsniper SSII sensor is hooked-up. At first, I tried a radio trigger for the two flashes but they did not work efficiently so I hard-wired the two Nikon SB-28s, and they have worked great ever since. I have also hard-wired the sensor with a 10 meter cable and set it on the side of the trail. I also use the sensor in the box in case the trail sensor does not pick-up an animal, and both work in tandem. It seems to be very sensitive and these sambar were both off-trail along a stream that is quite far away. I’m hoping to catch a black leopard that frequents this area plus tiger and other exotic species such as tapir. The 28mm lens is perfect for the large giants like elephants and gaur. The cam was working real well when I left it a couple days ago…!!
Odd-toed ungulates and other fauna in Western Thailand
Some 40 million years ago, the tapir evolved and was found on many continents including North America. These creatures are now thriving in only two areas of the world: Southeast Asia has one species and South America three. The Asian tapir is the largest and have a very distinct two-tone black and white color pattern that acts like natural camouflage, especially at night where the black breaks up its outline. These odd-toed ungulates are now becoming quite rare due to poaching for their meat, and encroachment in tapir habitat.
A young tapir with a distinct ear marking on a wildlife trail
Another more mature tapir a week later
A female tapir at another cam
Other animals caught in this series include elephants, gaur, sambar stag and doe, wild pig, sun bear, porcupine and red jungle fowl.
Elephants pose for the cam
These creatures were camera trapped using three homebrew cams: a Sony P43/BFOutdoors/1040/C externals, a Sony S600/BFOutdoors/1040/C externals and a Sony S600/Yeticam/alloy box.
Gaur also came through
These cams were setup by a wildlife trail and a waterhole deep in the interior of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and left for one month during January to February 2013.
Sambar stag and doe
This place is simply amazing with Asian forest ecosystems thriving today that once almost completely covered most of Thailand. In one century, humans have overcome most of the country except for a few places.
Asiatic sun bear
Throughout the Kingdom, the once large tracts of forests are now sliced-up and wildlife has disappeared. Huai Kha Khaeng remains the shinning star of Thailand’s natural legacy going back to the dinosaurs and before…!
Sambar at a waterhole
Red jungle fowl
I now have setup my Canon 350D DSLR with three flashes on this trail. I’m hoping for some good shots with this rig and will be posting these sometime at the end of March.
A Bushnell Trophy Cam set to video (IR capture at night) catches mega-fauna at night (wild elephant, gaur, banteng, sambar and Indochinese tiger) walking up a game trail in the heart of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a World Heritage Site situated in Western Thailand. Interestingly, a female tiger fitted with a radio collar is caught twice during the one month stint. All these animals are thriving very well in this amazing protected area, and is a tribute to Thailand’s natural heritage.
WILD SPECIES REPORT: Majestic Asian deer and even-toed ungulate
Important prey species of the tiger and leopard
Sambar doe and yearling drinking from the Huai Kha Khaeng waterway
A mature sambar stag, Thailand’s largest deer with a heavy antler rack, barks a loud warning and stamps its front feet on the ground alerting all the denizens a predator is nearby. The pungent smell of a tiger floats through the forest, and animals within audible range are now on hi-alert. But the big cat is lightning fast and takes a young sambar doe from the herd that is perfect for a meal. Leaf monkeys squeal, squirrels chatter and birds call from the treetops. It is panic on the ground as the deer bolt in all directions.
But this is just the cycle of life that has gone for millions of years. One animal is sacrificed for the other to survive. Deer play a very important part in the prey-predator relationship for without them, the tiger would struggle to live and carry on its legacy as the largest cat in the world. Carnivores thrive if there are abundant prey animals to hunt.
Sambar yearling in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary
Unfortunately in most parts of the country, the human being has eradicated sambar and other animal species like wild pig and common barking deer in man’s utter struggle to live. This has up-set the balance of nature. The big cats have also almost disappeared and as of a consequence, are now on the brink of extinction.
Wild animals and their ecosystems are under constant threat as the population expands further into the last vestiges of Thailand’s great natural heritage. At one time, the country was almost completely covered by vast expanses of virgin forests where sambar and other ungulates plus predators lived in complete harmony. That has all changed now and only a few large protected areas can boast that these big deer, or the tiger for that matter, still live in the interior.
Sambar stag after a mud bath in Huai Kha Khaeng
In any given forest, sambar was one of the first animals to disappear when man began cutting down forests to grow agriculture and build settlements. These deer were taken for meat, and their hides were shipped to Japan for ‘Samurai armor’ back before the turn of the 19th Century, and then for military equipment all the way up to just before World War Two. Literally millions of hides were exported and this had a serious effect on all the deer species.
It was a big business at the time and as an outcome, the other large cervids such as Schomburgk’s deer that has been globally extinct since the 1930s plus hog deer and Eld’s deer disappeared from the wild of Thailand. Sambar were more numerous and preferring deep forest, prevailed slightly better.
Sambar stag during the rut in Huai Kha Khaeng
Fossil evidence suggests that sambar evolved sometime during the Quaternary Period from large ungulates living on the huge plains of Asia at the time. The saber-toothed cat was one of the main carnivores that thrived on these hoofed animals.
My very first encounter with sambar was almost 15 years ago when I began photographing wildlife in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Sambar was seen everyday crossing the river from Khao Ban Dai ranger station at the confluence of the Huai Kha Khaeng and Huai Mae Dee waterways. I was able to catch them on film fairly easily, especially at the mineral licks found by the river.
Sambar stag on the run in Huai Kha Khaeng
Some ten years ago, a large complex was built at Khao Ban Dai for VIPs including a huge visitor center plus three bungalows. Wildlife numbers dropped dramatically in the area due to the construction and the amount of labor numbering about 100 men and women that stayed on location for almost a year. Peafowl also disappeared.
Happily, the area around Khao Ban Dai has now begun to return to somewhat normal after observingthe chain of events and making regular visits to the station over the last few years. Sambar, wild pig, muntjac and green peafowl on occasion are seen on the sandbars during the early morning and late afternoon. Evidence of tigers and leopards from camera-traps now show these carnivores are roaming here once again but this is also probably due to its remoteness. Wildlife is making a slow comeback here.
Huai Kha Khaeng – Huai Mae Dee junction
Down in the southern section of Huai Kha Khaeng however, sambar is still quite abundant. One frosty morning about 8am as I was sitting in my boat-blind waiting for wild water buffalo to come to the river, a sambar doe and several of her offspring popped out of the forest for refreshing drinks about four meters away. I had no other option than to take a head shot of them at the water’s edge as seen in the lead photograph. It was exciting to say the least and it took her a few moments to recognize the strange anomaly by the shoreline. She barked a warning at me and at that distance was extremely loud actually making me jump. The huge doe then crashed into the forest followed by the younger deer.
With increased protection, wild animals will survive as long as visitation by documentary film crews, scientific groups, nature lovers and tourists is kept reasonable or on a very limited scale. However, on many occasions large official and influential groups or research parties make their way into some of the very restricted protected areas and hold drinking sessions that carrying on into the wee hours of the morning while running the generator so ‘World Cup or soap operas’ can be watched on satellite TV.
Sambar yearling in Huai Kha Khaeng
Off-road groups still plow into some wildlife sanctuaries because the road conditions are the toughest in the country but these thrill-seekers who are usually connected, don’t care what damage they cause. The roads then become difficult to transverse created by their highly modified off-road vehicles that makes it doubly tough for the patrol rangers who have standard 4X4 trucks.
Over-visitation by the human element is like the plague as seen in many parks around the country with no limitation on vehicles and visitors with their ‘tent cities’ especially during the holidays. All of this of course is damaging but carries on for the prominent and connected, and surely has an affect disturbing the wildlife and ecosystem. A serious look into this behavior should be brought to the forefront. The term ‘double standard’ is also practiced in many reserves by some officials and will be difficult to stamp out.
Sambar stag in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary
So with all this in mind, it should also be said that the situation on the ground with the forest rangers is still a long way from being good, and is definitely detrimental to good protection and enforcement. The age-old problem of the temporary rangers not receiving any pay for three to four months every year still exists. After visiting several protected areas in the east, west and south over the last few months, the first thing one hears is “no-pay” from October to late January and sometimes beyond due to a glitch in the system, or the so-called lack of a budget.
This phenomenon is not fully understood but it is basically against human rights when someone is employed and not paid especially around the New Year. People really need money at this time. In the last 15 years that I have worked and been around these rangers, it is still very disturbing that the ‘powers-to-be’ continue to overlook this very basic need. Some of these rangers then resort to beg, borrow and steal to survive. Many are in serious debt and struggle with moneylenders. Some commit wildlife crimes to get ahead.
Sambar herd, jungle fowl and crow in Khao Yai National Park
A close friend of mine who retired as chief from a large protected area in southwest Thailand set aside a special fund from his yearly budget to pay the rangers when the money did not arrive from the finance ministry. He also charged no interest when the money was paid back. These men had the highest esteem for this superintendent who really took care of his staff in times of need, and in turn these dedicated patrol rangers made a special effort to take care of this forest that actually flourished.
I know because I was on the ground then and caught many rare creatures like tiger, leopard, fishing cat, sun bear, banded linsang, banteng, gaur, Siamese crocodile plus many others on camera-trap and through the lens. It was truly an exciting experience seeing all these remarkable creatures living as Mother Nature intended.
Sambar doe and fawn in Huai Kha Khaeng
This system should be implemented by all the superintendants in the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Another option is to make all temporary hired rangers permanent staff so they at least they get paid on time for work rendered. But even permanent staff is now experiencing half payment. Under these circumstances how can anyone have incentive to go into the dangerous environment of the forest where poachers with guns shoot to kill? These men also have very poor insurance coverage.
It is hoped someone will take action to help these brave forest rangers that are probably the most important key to good protection and enforcement of Thailand’s natural heritage. For without them, sambar and all the other wonderful wild creatures in the Kingdom are in serious jeopardy. Pressure needs to be exerted from the Thai media so this draconian problem of ‘no pay for months’ on end will cease to exist.
Sambar doe in Sai Yok National Park
Sambar Cervus unicolor is a terrestrial mammal of the order Artiodactyla, or even-toed ungulate with two functional hoofed toes and two dew toes on each foot. These large deer have a four-chambered stomach and feed on plant material. Food is partially digested in the stomach and then brought back up into the mouth again for further chewing, to increase the amount of nutrition that can be obtained from grasses and leaves. As ruminants, this permits large amounts of food to be ingested quickly before moving to sheltered places for chewing, and better protection against predators.
Stags can weigh more than 500 kilograms and attain a height of 102 to 160 cm at the shoulder. They have long legs and can run at a fast pace to evade large carnivores. With their formidable antlers that can exceed a length of over a 100 cm, they are extremely dangerous to man when a male sambar has been wounded.
The coat is dark brown with chestnut marks on the rump and under parts. These cervids live primarily in woodland and feed on a variety of vegetation, including grasses, foliage, browse, fruit and water plants. Sambar is found in habitats ranging from tropical seasonal forests (dry forests and seasonal moist evergreen forests), subtropical mixed forests (conifers, broadleaf deciduous, and broadleaf evergreen tree species) to tropical rainforests.
They are seldom far from water and, although primarily of the tropics, are hardy and may range from sea level up to high elevations such as the pine and oak forests on the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. They also live in montane mixed forests and grassland habitats at high elevations in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
Sambar needs serious protection to survive into the future. Good protective management with an increase in budget and personnel is needed. A true ranger training school with instructors from the National Parks department, Border Patrol Police, Special Forces, Navy Seals and an NGO like Freeland should be established somewhere in the central provinces away from any national park and all its distractions of over-visitation.
Also, it will provide easy access and distribution for new recruits who graduate as permanent rangers. Temporary rangers can also come and train, and then also become permanently employed. The day this happens will be a step in the right direction for wildlife conservation in the Kingdom.