COVID-19 Threatens Endangered Species in Southeast Asia

The coronavirus has created a survival crisis for rural communities and, consequently, for wildlife.

In a rare piece of COVID-19 good news, the Thai government recently announced that endangered leatherback turtles are returning to nesting beaches now devoid of tourists. However, at the same time, I was being interviewed by the BBC concerning the loss of three of one of Cambodia’s rarest birds, the giant ibis—acts we believe to be linked to the economic hardships of rural families brought about by the same crisis.

The protected areas of remote northern Cambodia where the giant ibis were killed are home to some of the most unique assemblages of endangered birds anywhere in the region. Over the last decade, they have given rise to an innovative ecotourism program.

Our partners at the local conservation enterprise Sam Veasna Conservation Tours bring birdwatchers from around the world to see these rare birds. Visitors, who stay in village eco-lodges, are shown birds by local guides. Over the last decade they have paid more than $100,000 into a community conservation fund. However, as in Thailand, the tourists are now gone, and it is not clear when they will be coming back.

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