Developing Cambodia's first conservation genetics lab
The RZSS WildGenes laboratory are working with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) to develop the first conservation genetic laboratory in Cambodia. RUPP is supported by the Royal Government of Cambodia, and with the support of FFI, runs an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation. This is providing a lifeline in a country with limited educational opportunities and such rich biodiversity.
Cambodia is home to the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and contains the largest tracts of remaining forest in the region. It therefore plays a key role in protecting these last remnants of these dwindling habitats. Since 2016, the WildGenes team have been training RUPP staff in genetic laboratory work and data analysis, with the aim of equipping the university with the skills to run their own conservation genetics lab. We have used three projects as key hands-on training that are also providing critical knowledge to conservation field practitioners in country.
Alongside FFI, the world-wide fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) we are estimating the population sizes of the remaining wild Asian elephants in Cambodia, as these elusive forest elephants are extremely difficult to observe. Our second project is also aimed at improving elephant conservation by informing local law enforcement. Funded by the UK Government through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, it is focusing on identifying the origin of ivory found within the domestic Cambodian market. The trade in ivory has been increasing in recent years, and the laboratory is attempting to determine where the influx of ivory is coming from and the elephant populations it is threatening, this is leading to a few surprises.
Our most recent project has focused on developing a genetic test to identify critically endangered Siamese crocodiles, so that individuals can be selected for release in a reintroduction program. This has allowed the testing to occur in Cambodia for the very first time and confiscated crocodiles and crocodiles donated by commercial farms are helping to repopulate areas where crocodiles have not been seen for decades. Find out more about this incredible project in the video below!