Of Butterflies and Gibbons

BUTTERFLIES

Venture 30km north out of Siem Reap and you might just stumble across the BBC; the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre.

Set on the road between Angkor and the Banteay Srey temple, the BBC is a lovely little project which is working with local communities in the area to breed butterflies. Farmers around Phnom Kulen receive training and equipment, breed the butterflies at their homes and bring the pupae to the centre where they receive payment for each undamaged pupae. It is hoped that this alternative source of income will reduce the likelihood of villagers engaging in environmentally damaging activities such as logging.

The project was set up by Ben Hayes, a bat specialist from Scotland, who worked in Vietnam for a number of years. Helped by co- founder Sharita Smith and her husband, Gary Smith (and of course the enthusiastic and dedicated staff at the centre), Ben has created a beautiful space where you can easily spend an hour or two in the peace and quiet of the garden, surrounded by over 100 different species of plants and butterflies, including the stunning yellow birdwing, giant atlas moth and beautiful lady butterflies, a real tropical paradise.

The staff will guide you through the centre, taking you step by step through every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle, and you can compare the eggs, pupae and caterpillars of different species and marvel at how incredibly well they have evolved to repel predators through their camouflaged colourations, scary faces and gold flecked toxic shells.

The centre has been running for six years and has had to overcome legal battles and corruption, but is now on its way to becoming a self sustaining firmly educational centre that revolves around community involvement and collaboration.

You can visit the centre daily between 9am and 4pm for a $5 entrance fee. This fee goes towards paying the local butterfly farmers for their pupae, as well as the staff salaries. We would also really recommend the cycle to get there – a beautiful and peaceful flat route out of the Angkor complex through small Cambodian towns and shaded avenues which will take you little more than an hour or two. You could then continue on to Banteay Srey Temple and ACCB which would make for a wonderful day.

Take some time out from the temples and explore a little further!

GIBBONS

Having heard from Mike, ACCB, about the release of gibbons by Wildlife Alliance into the Angkor archaeological park we decided to see if the spot marked on our temple map as “Flight of the Gibbons” knew anything about it.

“Flight of the Gbbons” turned out to be an adventure experience set up to enable tourists to zip wire for two km through the forest canopy for $100. So after listening to the sales pitch we asked if there were any real gibbons here.

“Oh yes that tree over there is the five star hotel for this area’s gibbon pair.”

We soon established that two pairs had been released into the park. The pair whose territory encompassed the centres site had also bred this year and in the early morning and evening you can often see them in their tree. We were naturally there at midday. The other pair had a territory a few kilometers away. Due to the size of the archaeological park, around 160 sq km, the number of pairs that can be released has to be limited to ensure there is room for future offspring to set up territories.

There are two species of gibbon in Cambodia both Endangered on the IUCN red list. These are the yellow-cheeked crested gibbon and the pileated gibbon. Again they are threatened by loss of habitat and the rampant pet trade.

The released gibbons are those from the rescue centre and make ideal animals to release into an area that sees alot of human traffic in the form of tourists as they are firmly arboreal.

The other thinking behind this release is that unlike national parks set aside for wildlife, usually in remote difficult to access and enforce locations, this park houses one of the seven wonders of the world and is therefore unlikely to be sold off as a logging concession or for nefarious development projects, providing a much safer and more easily monitored home for these threatened species.

We can only wait, see and hope that maybe one day it will be possible to hear gibbons calling and catch a glimpse of them swinging through the trees while strolling round Angkor’s many temples.

By Natasha and Lucy

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