Monitoring is a critical, albeit oft overlooked part of successful conservation programs. The data that monitoring provides on biodiversity and habitats is essential for evaluating the impacts of conservation and management activities, and without these data it can be difficult or impossible to know if progress is being made towards objectives. Fortunately, understanding of the importance of monitoring is growing globally, and more organizations are incorporating long-term data collection efforts into their conservation work. In Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary – a protected area covering over 130,000 hectares of forest in northeastern Cambodia – ongoing work by Rising Phoenix to conserve vital habitat for multiple critical endangered species has recently incorporated a new monitoring program. Working together with FISHBIO biologists, Rising Phoenix staff are developing and testing a new long-term monitoring program that will record data on aquatic biodiversity and aquatic habitat in the multiple streams that run through the wildlife sanctuary, including the O’Khampha and Tin Hiang rivers.

Although wildlife sanctuaries like Siem Pang are often focused on terrestrial ecosystems and species, taking the time to evaluate the impacts of management on aquatic ecosystems like streams and wetlands is vitally important, as terrestrially focused management may not adequately protect aquatic biodiversity. Taking the time to understand freshwater biodiversity is especially important in Siem Pang, given current efforts by Rising Phoenix to reintroduce a top aquatic predator: critically endangered Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis). Although these crocodiles historically occurred in the region, they were driven to local extinction, and Rising Phoenix’s reintroduction in 2022 and 2023 have placed crocodiles in the landscape for the first time in decades.

As part of an evaluation project conducted for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund between 2020 and 2022, FISHBIO staff worked with local partners to conduct fish and habitat sampling at multiple locations in the O’Khampha River in order to evaluate the impacts of the crocodile reintroduction effort. The two sampling events that took place for this evaluation established valuable baseline data on the fish community present in the sanctuary. Wanting to fully understand the impacts of their conservation efforts, Rising Phoenix decided to move forward with the development of a long-term fish monitoring program modeled on the sampling that was conducted for the evaluation effort. They engaged FISHBIO biologists in the US and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to refine the sampling methodology and design a standard protocol for fish monitoring and data analysis that can be used to track changes in biodiversity, abundance, and size structure of fish across seasons and years.

The new monitoring program included two sampling efforts, which focused on the transition periods between wet and dry seasons. The first sampling event took place in June of 2023, and the second took place in October of 2023 at the end of the wet season. FISHBIO biologists worked with Rising Phoenix staff to interpret and analyze the data that was gathered on the fish community, and provided recommendations for future monitoring. Rising Phoenix intends to continue implementing the monitoring protocol developed for this project into the future, and thereby seeks to improve their understanding of the impacts of crocodile reintroduction and other conservation efforts that take place in the wildlife sanctuary.

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