CI marine biologist Les Kaufman spends most of his trips to the “field” near, on or in the ocean. But this month in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap region, he’s in for something different. Les is part of a team studying the interactions between one of the world’s largest freshwater fisheries and the people who depend on it. Read his previous posts from this trip.
With the adventures of the open lake behind us, we set out to complete our last two missions in Cambodia on this trip: begin our exploration of the lake basin uplands, and discuss how we might unite the multiple elements of our project into a unified whole, complete with a crack team of Cambodian and expat graduate students, postdocs and technicians.
First we set off for the headwaters of the Siem Reap River, perhaps the most famous and visited of the feeder streams to Tonle Sap, for it includes an outer temple of the famous Angkor Wat complex. The short hike up began eventfully, with a gibbon calling from the nearby dipterocarp hill forest. (Learn more about Cambodia’s gibbons in Wednesday’s blog post.)
The piercing call of the slender ape drove home with force and conviction: “These woods are mine! I live here!’” This despite the meager remnant forest, the press of the tourist parade — more than a million strong each year — and the blanket of high-yield rice rolling across what once was jungle. This land is inhabited by living spirits, and whether we care or not, they are sacred.
At the top, we had a rare chance to scrutinize native forest — rare because except for a few large tracts like the Cardamom Mountains, very little forest of any sort remains in Cambodia.