The Cardamom Mountains

The Cardamom Mountains

I’ve been finishing up filming for the Wildlife Alliance short film on ranger operations. It’s the third time in a year I’ve been up in the helicopter. I’ve tried shooting from the small Cesna plane that’s often used by NGO’s here but that’s close to impossible to get good footage from, because of the vibrations and the wind. The helicopters a dream to shoot from. It would be nice to be able to use a professional helicopter camera mount but they’re many thousands of dollars a day. Even so, with Dave the pilot in control I’ve managed to get some amazing shots. It’s also a lot of fun hanging out of the door in a harness. Just a shame I can’t have the right to use some of the shots for future films. I certainly can’t afford the $2,000 an hour helicopter rental.

Inaccessible waterfall in the Cardamoms

Inaccessible waterfall in the Cardamoms

It’s a gripe I have with most of the conservation NGO’s. They are all trying to achieve the same thing and all of them conduct vital work, but they rarely cooperate or coordinate with each other. I have taken some great images over the years but so much has ended up sitting on shelves, collecting dust and will probably never be seen again. It all seems such a waste to me.

Anyway, the trip was fantastic, it started out a very hazy day with just a couple of km visibility; I thought it was going to be a horrible day to film. At this time of year every farmer across SE Asia is burning the stubble in their fields. Amazingly as we approached the Cardamom Mountain range the sky began to clear, it certainly wasn’t a perfect day but we got some blue sky and some really nice shots of forest. Thanks to Dave’s skills as a pilot I even managed to get some usable shots of a group of Giant Hornbills flying across the canopy.

Hornbills flying across the canopy

Hornbills flying across the canopy

On previous trips I filmed all kinds of illegal activities, to the right you can see a giant charcoal kiln smoking away. Normally the small scale kilns are no more than 2 or 3 meters in diameter, and they are destructive enough. This monster was more like 10-12 meters long. We reported it to the rangers who busted it shortly after.

We also flew over one of 7 dams currently being constructed in the Cardamoms. While the construction companies are clearing trees for the dams legally, there has been a considerable increase in illegal logging of luxury woods. I guess we can expect a flurry of new Humvees in town and a few more palaces that look like concrete wedding cakes popping up here and there. I swear Phnom Penh has more Hummers than Hollywood.

Illegal Charcoal Kiln

Illegal Charcoal Kiln

At fast approaching 45 years of age I have finally discovered what I want to be when I grow up… a helicopter pilot. Apparently it would cost about $70,000 to get your license. Unfortunately it’s way out of my league.


About Allan Michaud

English Wildlife Photographer/Environmental Filmmaker based in Cambodia
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