Following the success of the 2006 survey, which yielded the first reliable population estimate for elephants in Cambodia, a second DNA-based capture-recapture survey is being undertaken in SPF this dry season. The 2006 survey revealed a much larger population than expected, and confirmed that the SPF elephant population retains high levels of genetic diversity. These results are good news in conservation terms as it means that there is much scope for the population to recover further and to thrive within SPF. This first survey also proved that the method could be used even in difficult field conditions where elephants are dispersed across large areas of dense forest.
Five years have passed since the initial survey and this year it was time to investigate whether anything has changed with the SPF elephant population. Protection efforts in SPF have been ongoing since 2006 so we expect the population to have remained stable or possibly even to have grown. Elephants reproduce slowly but camera-trap images taken over the last few years show lots of calves and young elephants so we know that we have a healthy breeding population within SPF. The 2006 survey estimated the SPF population size to be around 120 individuals and we will have to wait and see how this compares to the results of the 2011 survey.
The elephant survey team has been busy collecting samples of elephant dung from all of the elephant "hotspots" around the SPF. The team uses their knowledge of the forest, combined with their experience from the 2006 survey, to identify the best places to find elephant dung. They also use information from local community members to pinpoint the position of various elephant groups at any one time. This allows them follow in the elephant's footsteps and to collect the very freshest dung samples. Fresh dung samples make it easier to extract good quality DNA fragments, before it becomes degraded by sunlight or moisture. The hard work of the team has already paid off and they have managed to collect close to 500 samples, which is almost double the number collected in 2006. The success of sample collection so far is extremely encouraging and we eagerly await the final results of the survey.