On Patrol in the Srepok Wilderness Area

Getting Started
Everyone is awake early on the morning they are to set out on patrol. The first to rise are the mahouts who must round up their elephants, which have been grazing in the forest all night. The elephants then must be given their daily bath in the river "or else they will have no power" before the mahouts can sit down with the other rangers and have a hearty breakfast of fried fish, the last good feed for a few days.

On each patrol team are two rangers including one mahout and his elephant if it is the rainy season and the land is inundated with water making the way impassable by motorcycle. Even in the dry season, the elephants move through the tall grass like a car going through an automatic car wash. The project's technical advisor, Martin von Kaschke and his government counterpart, Keo Sopheak accompany the patrol so that active on-job-training can be conducted and data can be correctly recorded.

Friendly persuasion backed by force of arms

Completing the team are two police officers. They are there to enforce the law against hunting and illegal logging and are armed and will apprehend offenders if they are caught. The rangers, on the other hand, can only issue a warning and try to solicit a pledge that the offenders won't transgress again. A big part of the ranger's job is to educate people about the laws and the need to conserve the wildlife.

Keeping track of biodiversity

Another major purpose of the patrol is to collect data on the biodiversity. Signs and sightings of wild game are noted and the rangers have been trained to use the global positioning system in order to determine where the signs and sightings have been made. This raw field date is recorded in the standard data format and will eventually be entered into a wildlife data base. On any typical patrol they might sight nests of wild pigs or impressions in the tall grass where gaur or bangteng have laid down for the night. They note the tracks in the dry river beds of large cats, including tigers and cloud leopards and scrutinize the dung deposited by the large mammals. The patrols set up camera traps which will help determine what wildlife is about and in what numbers.

Marking territory

The area of each patrol is expansive and usually the patrol team will hike for 20km each day covering from 500 to 1,500 hectares. In order to know where they are and to avoid going round in circles, a ranger will leave his signature while travelling, making a mark with a machete on the bark of trees. Depending on its height, size, and on which side of the tree it has been made, the mark relates certain information. The rangers will also pick wild fruit which they eat along the way, while the elephants graze continually often stopping to munch medicinal plants.

Setting up camp for the night

Eventually, a number of permanent camps are to be established where the rangers will posted for longer lengths of time, allowing them to return each night. Until then, the patrol must find a suitable site to camp for the night. This is not always easy in the dry season when water is scarce. Water is vital as the elephants need to bathe before being shackled and let loose to graze during the night in the forest. In the wet season, however, it is important to find a site on high ground. While the other rangers and police officers hang their hammocks in the trees and prepare their meal of dried noodles over a campfire, the mahouts spend their time collecting vines from the trees which they use as rope to harness the elephants.

Darkness descends early in the forest and the men will spend the evening swapping tales around the campfire before retiring to their hammocks. Tired from their long trek, they sleep deeply rising with the dawn to begin the next day's patrol.
Elephants after bath / ©: WWF-Canon / Jane STORY
Elephants after bath
© WWF-Canon / Jane STORY
Usually the patrol team will hike for 20km each day covering from 500 to 1,500 hectares
Police Officers on patrol / ©: WWF-Canon / Jane STORY
Police Officers on patrol
© WWF-Canon / Jane STORY

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