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Authorities Release Pair of Rare Gibbons Near Famed Temples

A yellow-cheeked crested gibbon relaxes in a cage at Cambodia's Phnom Tamao Zoo in Takeo province, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Aug. 29, 2008.

Cambodian wildlife officials have released a pair of Asian gibbons into the forests near Angkor Wat, seeking to spread their population.

The rare gibbons have been the subject of a protection program between the government and Wildlife Alliance since 2009.

This is the second pair of gibbons to be released into the wild near the famed temples. Authorities there say they will monitor the couple closely and have worked hard to ensure that no hunters will poach in the area.

Roth Bunthoeun, who heads a research center under the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry administration, said gibbons had disappeared from the Angkor forest. By 2013, the first pair of gibbons were released back into the forest near the temples, in an effort to help them spread their population.

“The place wild animals need is not a cage, but a big forest,” Roth Bunthoeun said. “Of course, we need to learn more and show the next generation wildlife in a natural way.” Still, wildlife preservation is not about tourism, but about allowing wild animals to live as they would naturally, he said.

Apsara Authority, which oversees tourism at the temples of Angkor Wat, also monitors the forests surrounding them. There are few hunters in these woods, however, and good habitat for the gibbons, giving hope to conservationists, officials say.

The gibbon program is part of a broader initiative to preserve Cambodia’s wildlife. Nearly 900 different animals were released to Cambodia’s forests in 2015, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In Phnom Penh, the conservation of animals like the gibbon comes as welcome news, where sustainable development of the country’s natural resources remains a concern.

Von Chhay Soneath, 20, said she supports wildlife conservation and opposes deforestation. Wild game should not be hunted for food, either, she said. “It doesn’t taste as good as domesticated animal meat.”

San Mala, co-founder of the Mother Nature Movement, a local NGO in Koh Kong province, said the decline of wild animals in Cambodia’s forests continues, especially where forests are cleared to make way for development, like land concessions and hydropower projects.

“Wild animals in Cambodia are being damaged and endangered.” he said. “From day to day, there are many illegal trades of wild animals, even hunting and selling.”

The illegal wildlife trade in forest communities is one of the main factors in endangering animals, he said. And it is not being regulated. “It is because of corruption in the forestry administration officers and related persons.”

Amid these concerns, the release of the two gibbons into the wild was welcome news. Taing Meng Kheang, a resident of Phnom Penh, applauded such efforts. “I want to see gibbons and other wild animals,” she said, “since I’ve never seen them before.”