Return to Prey LangTwenty years ago, as a young man, I was a field team leader doing forest inventory in Siem Bok and Thalaborivat districts of Stung Trang province, Cambodia - both districts are a part of Prey Lang forest. I remember that each of my missions to the forest took time, at least one month. I was left with many good memories from that period - my amazing indigenous field team, the remote Chorng villages deep in the forest, the beautiful landscape of Stung Trang rich in wildlife, biodiversity and the Mekong. It is the place where I learned about remote communities, the forest, wildlife and heard local stories steeped in humor. Today, I return to Siem Bok (Prey Lang) with my new work and organization, Wild Earth Allies, with the same focus on my lovely Asian elephant conservation work. My colleague and I, along with Chorng villagers, went to Prey Lang forest for an Asian elephant hotspot survey (a hotspot survey is conducting detailed field visits to identify areas of high use/importance for elephants (and other species) which determines camera trap placement for long-term monitoring). On the way, I saw that the landscape had changed a lot. Big forests converted to new villages, roads and agricultural lands. I was very disappointed to see this, but I tried to keep quiet. One magic technique to change my feelings is to open my mind and think in a positive way. Traveling nearly a full day to Asian elephant habitats in Prey Lang, we arrived to the first place where we considered there could be hotspots, and stopped near a stream to build camp. Our team worked together very well. Some people built the camp, some cooked and others carried water from the stream. An hour later we had a meal for dinner and a safe camp for spending the night. Under a camp tent and inside a hammock through a strong rain, I imagined my memories from 20 years ago about my work. I was a young man and super crazy with work in the forest. I loved those villagers and the beautiful forests that were rich with wildlife. I spent so many nights in the forest. The rain stopped around 2 am, the air became more comfortable, cooler. I fell asleep. Then an hour later, I was woken quickly with a sound. Elephants came from far and trumpeted their song down at the stream! Mr. Ben, an elder man from the Chorng community, said that they sing songs to welcome us. Early the next morning, we cooked breakfast and prepared our equipment and materials for our field research. A big hornbill bird and monkeys on tops of trees close to our camp helped wake us. The sunrise helped me see the beautiful forest still there. I was full of energy to find Asian elephant hotspots in Prey Lang. We found three hotspots that day. Signs of elephants and other animals made me smile with hope that it isn't too late to protect and conserve those species there. Two days later, I needed to return to Phnom Penh. I had to say goodbye to my team. They wanted to accompany me out of the forest, but I decided to take only one local man with me, and promised to come back soon. We have to learn to live in a crowded world and make harmony with it. Hello our new generation! Hope is waiting for you.
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