The Gibbons of Ratanakiri

Cambodia’s first ever experience.

A simply amazing experience for all wildlife lovers to see the incredibly rare ‘northern yellow-cheeked gibbons’ in their natural habitat in the Ratanakiri province of Northeast Cambodia. This rare and endangered species of gibbon was only discovered in 2010 with an estimated 500 groups at the site, this is the largest known population in the world!
In the west of Ratanakiri province, lies a luscious forest called Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area. This protected 550 square km area is home to this extremely important gibbon population, as well as a host of other endangered species.
‘See Cambodia Differently’ in partnership with ‘DutchCo Trekking Cambodia’, ‘Conservation International’ and the local communities have put together an exclusive one night gibbon spotting trek, the first of its kind in Cambodia.
It’s a unique experience for enthusiastic wild life spotters and those who are interested in biology and nature conservation.  Only very small groups of between 2-6 visitors are allowed to visit the site making this an extremely special opportunity indeed.


The northern yellow-cheeked gibbon.

Based on population surveys conducted in 2009, there are an estimated 500 groups of northern yellow-cheeked gibbons at the site; each group consists of two adults and their juvenile offspring. The gibbon species in Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area was described for the very first time in 2010 in a multinational collaborative effort by primatologists throughout the region and with data contributions from Conservation International researchers at the site.

The (VSSPCA) was extremely important to the discovery of the species and genetic material recovered from the faeces of the wild gibbon group helped demonstrate that this indeed was a new species.

The discovery of new apes are incredibly rare and the opportunity to see this species in their natural habitat is all the more unique. This new species, Nomascus annamensis, has not yet been assessed for is threat status by the World Conservation Union (IUCN Red List), however it is extremely likely that they will be listed as Endangered.

At the site it is possible to see and follow a family group of an adult male, adult female, a sub-adult, a juvenile and an infant. Gibbons are monogamous with groups generally consisting of 2 adults and up to 3 offspring. When the offspring reach maturity at around 7 to 10 years they leave the group to find a mate in another part of the forest to raise their own offspring. Gibbons are fiercely territorial of their areas of the forest and make their claims known through ritualistic vocalizations.

The gibbons live in perfect harmony with the Kavet people who consider the gibbons as extremely important; they are not hunted but respected and share the jungle together. This in stark contrast with many other areas in Southeast Asia, where gibbons and other primates are persecuted and hunted for bush meat, for their perceived medicinal properties, or for the trade in pets. That such a healthy population persists in this area is a testament to the importance of the site and its relatively untouched nature. We hope that responsibly showing you the gibbons in their natural environment will help preserve this species and the area for generations to come.

Why come Gibbon spotting with us.

– We are the only official partnership that has direct access to the gibbon sites, which are part of an ongoing conservation research project.
– Being escorted by specialist guides and researchers you have a much higher chance of seeing the gibbons, estimated to be about 70%.
– Our project is environmentally responsible and has taken many steps to ensure that the welfare of the gibbons is at the centre of everything we do. You will not just get the opportunity to see gibbons in the Veun Sai-Pang Conservation Area as the site is teeming with other wildlife. The site is incredibly important biologically, and is also home to two other newly discovered species; the ‘Iridescent short-legged lizard’ and ‘Walston’s tube-nosed bat’.
– The site is managed by a community-based ecotourism group made up of democratically elected community members. All profits which go to the community are spent by the community on developing the community. Local people are also employed in positions such as trackers, guides and wildlife enforcement, which help maintain the forest and wildlife for their long-term benefit.
– Responsible nature tourism such as that we provide gives support to poor local indigenous communities and threatened wildlife. Help us to make this project the success it deserves to be.

Tariff:

$390 per person for 2 people.
$290 per person for 3 to 6 people.
Groups consist of 2-6 people only.
The treks are available from November 1st through June 16th.

Including:

All meals, specialist guides and rangers, 1 night at the jungle gibbon research centre, conservation and gibbon fee, moutain bikes, boat and ferry costs, equipment hire, suport vehicle and pre-tour evening briefing.

Evening briefing

At 7pm we will meet at ‘Terre Rouge’ hotel for a trek briefing. It is the first opportunity for everyone to meet the people on their trek and to run over the final details so everyone knows what to expect. All participants then sign the consent form and are free to enjoy their last night before the adventure begins.

Day 1

You will be picked up from your hotel at 8am and depart by car from Ban Lung at 8:30am and travel 35 km north to Kachon village approximately 45 minutes away. In Kachon, a boat will be waiting to take you 12 km, again approximately 45 minutes downstream on the Sesan River to Veun Sai town. On this journey you can observe the nature on the riverbank and the daily activities of the people who live along the river. In Veun Sai town we will take bicycle to travel about 30 minutes to I Tub village, a Laotian community approximately halfway to the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area station.
Once in I Tub, we will take a short break for lunch and meet with a member of the Community-based Ecotourism Team. After lunch we continue to the station by bike along a forest path, we might see tracks and signs of some of the local wildlife such as the claw marks of the sun bear on the tree trunks, or footprints of deer and other species as well as local birds. We will cycle the majority of the way but in order to get a good look at our surroundings we will hike in some parts.
At around 3pm we will arrive at the gibbon research station where you will be introduced to the station chief, scientists and researchers, your gibbon guide and shown around the camp. You then have time to relax and make yourself comfortable before walking to the nearby savannah for a spot of bird watching; alternatively you can take out the mountain bikes and cycle around the forest paths before sit down to an early dinner at 6:45pm

The night hike

At around 8pm we go for an hour night jungle hike, equipped with torches. The canopy is home to many nocturnal animals such as the pygmy-loris (a small arboreal primate) and the civet (a small jungle cat). Close to the ground, it is much harder to spot other night animals; however with the torches the reflection of their eyes often reveals their location. You will then head to bed at about 10:00pm before rising early as you will need to be awake well before sunrise the next day.

Day 2

Today we rise early at 3:15am because the gibbons wake up with the sun and call to mark their territory as soon as dawn breaks. At 4am, whilst it is still dark we following a small trail to the protected gibbon area about 45 minutes away to make sure that we are there in time to hear their call. We then reach the edge of a grassy savannah and wait for the call of a certain gibbon family, currently the only group that accepts people in their presence. The different groups start to call (sing) at around sunrise with some calls carrying up to 2km. Once the habituated groups of gibbons starts to sing, the gibbon guide will try to locate them in the forest as fast as possible and he will guide us to the spot so we can watch them as they go about their morning activities in the tree canopy. In some cases they let you come very close – less than 15 meters – which provides an excellent opportunity to take pictures. This is a special time as the gibbons can travel quickly in the trees and leave in a split second, anytime they want. Once they do, it can be very difficult for us to find them again, however the group can often be followed for a couple of hours throughout the forest.

After the gibbon spotting we head back to the station for brunch at about 10:30am. We then pack up and get ready to leave. We follow a different path through the jungle and head back to I Tub village. Again, some parts we will cycle some we will walk. On the way we visit a Chinese and Laos settlement and take a short walk around the village. It’s a nice idyllic village with friendly people and on certain days you will be able to witness traditional local weaving. We then continue back to Veun Sai town, cross the Sesan River by a small ferry, before stopping off for lunch at a restaurant that boasts a beautiful view of the river and its banks. Our journey has now come to an end and we are picked up by car and travel back to Ban Lung arriving at approximately 3pm.

Other trek highlights

• Seeing B52 bomb craters which are now waterholes for resident animals
• Seeing a salt lick, where monkeys, deer and forest cattle come to eat soil which is high in minerals
• Bird watching in Veal Thom as the sun goes down
• Walk the silvered langur trail, you just might see a monkey staring back at you.
• Walk the resin trail and see how local communities collect tree resin sustainability to support their local livelihoods

Gibbons

The gibbons are wild animals and even though our gibbon spotting trek has two opportunities to view the gibbons, there are no guarantees that you will see the gibbons on every trek. Based on previous sightings, the chances are about 70%, increasing slightly in the dryer months as the gibbons call more frequently in the mornings, which is how we locate these groups. You can expect to get within 20 metres of the gibbons and if you are handy with a camera, expect some great photos. It is often possible to follow the gibbons for several hours as they go about their morning activities; swinging through the trees and feeding on fruits and leaves in the forest.

The Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area Station

The station is where the scientists live while they conduct research. Armed government law enforcement agents also live at the station and are based there to patrol the Veun Sai Siem Pang Conservation Area and to prevent illegal poaching and logging, offering additional security as well as protecting the gibbons. We will be based here while on the trek and are the guests of the station staff and must respect the area, the station staff, their rules and the work that they do.

Facilities

The station provides basic facilities such as a field kitchen, accommodation and sanitation. While at the station hammocks with attached mosquito nets will be provided for you to sleep in. At the moment, these have been set up in a basic solid structure for shelter from the elements.
There is a building used by the community-based ecotourism management team for storage and where you will be taking meals.
Food is prepared on a wood fire in the designated kitchen area. The community-based ecotourism management team has also built a small traditional shelter with a thatched leaf roof and table and chairs. Shared with station staff and researchers, there are two bathroom stalls with freshwater for showering and squat toilets.

Equipment provided during the trek

Backpacks, hammocks, blankets, rain poncho’s (wet season), aluminum water bottles, cutlery, cups, plates, towels, toilet paper, soap and torches or headlamps for the night walk.

Suggested items to pack

2 Sets of Clothing
1) A set of neutral-colored clothes of natural fibers (cotton) for the trek and gibbon spotting; Long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, walking boots, walking socks and a hat.
2) A clean set of clothes for the night; Long or short trousers (depending on the season and temperature), long sleeved shirt, fleece jacket or sweater, sandals or flip flops and a spare pair of socks. In addition we suggest only bringing a limited number of personal items with you, as whatever you bring you will have to carry, we suggest; some personal toiletries, soap, sun cream, sun glasses, insect repellent, swim suit, travel towel, torch or headlamp, binoculars and a personal first aid kit including any necessary medication such as anti-malarial pills or other. As well as a small day-pack to carry your camera etc…

Meals

The food on the trek is extremely good, fresh and nutritious. We serve a western breakfast of home-made bread with eggs, jam, coffee and tea. Lunch and dinner consist of rice or noodles, followed by fresh fruit. With the exception of vegetarian meals, all food will be prepared for every guest in the same way. Please note that there is no possibility of cooking different food for individuals.

Weather

Cambodia experiences a dry season and a wet season. The dry season occurs each year from about November to July. The wet season comprises the remainder of the year, with rain and flooding occurring in varying degrees of intensity. Hence we will only be running treks for 9 months each year. During this period we plan to take back to back treks however at certain times it can be difficult to bicycle on slippery tracks. If the weather is particularly bad then there could be some blackout dates during this period. We will endeavor to take treks with limited interruptions.

Cancellation Policy

‘Gibbon Spotting Cambodia’ reserves the right to cancel treks at any time. It is extremely rare that this will happen and we will try and give you as much warning as we can. We will also try and rearrange your trek to fit around your existing Cambodian travel plans. The decision to cancel a trek will rest with ‘DutchCo Trekking Cambodia’ and will be for reasons of safety only. If a trek is cancelled then all monies will be refunded.

Insurance and Safety

All clients will be asked to sign a Consent, Assumption of Risk and Release form before being allowed to participate. We also insist for your safety that all clients have suitable insurance cover, including helicopter evacuation in the eventuality that you may need to be airlifted out of the jungle if an accident occurs. Clients should also be advised that like much of rural Cambodia, the site has mosquitoes which may carry malaria.

Malaria can be potentially fatal if contracted and as such clients are advised to seek medical advice concerning malaria avoidance prior to visiting the site. Avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes is the most effective way to avoid malaria. Many travellers to Cambodia also choose to take malarial prophylaxis, medication which prevents malaria in the case of infection. If you become ill after leaving the site, be aware that you may have malaria and need to seek immediate medical advice.

Group Sizes (Private Groups)

We are currently only running tours of 3 to 6 people per group as we look to control the risk of human impact as well as optimizing your chances of viewing the gibbons. We will always pair clients with other groups unless you specifically ask for a private group, in which case you will be charged as if you were a group of 6 people.

Age Limit (Fitness Level)

The minimum age of visitors to the gibbons is 15 years old unless the parent or guardian of the child gives consent by signing the ‘Consent, Assumption of Risk and Release Form’ on their behalf. There is no maximum age limit, trekking in the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area can be physically demanding and we request that visitors are in sufficient physical condition to endure hiking in forests without trails and in hot humid conditions. Please carefully consider your decision to trek as health services near the VSSPCA are limited.

Code of Conduct

We operate our treks under a strict code of conduct and all clients traveling to the area must be aware of these rules and behave and conduct themselves accordingly.

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Tour Highlights:

  • Seeing B52 bomb craters which are now waterholes for resident animals
  • Seeing a salt lick, where monkeys, deer and forest cattle come to eat soil which is high in minerals
  • Bird watching in Veal Thom as the sun goes down
  • Walk the silvered langur trail, you just might see a monkey staring back at you
  • Walk the resin trail and see how local communities collect tree resin sustainably to support their local livelihoods

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