The critically endangered white-shouldered ibis, a bird whose population is estimated at between 250 to 350 in Cambodia, may be helped rather than harmed by humans farming near its roosts, according to a recent study.
Published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Animal Conservation, the study examined 48,000 hectares in the Western Siem Pang Important Bird Area in Siem Pang district Stung Treng province and found that the bird prefers rummaging for food in open, accessible areas with little undergrowth and bare soil.
Researchers believe that is because the cleared land makes it easier to catch prey, allows for better take-offs and increases the ibis’ chances of detecting predators.
As a result, the grazing by livestock from small-scale farms aids its survival by opening up the land and developing ideal surroundings.
“The grazing by those animals is creating the habitat for the ibis,” said Hugh Wright, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at the UK-based University of East Anglia.
He said further study is necessary to determine the full impact of humans on the animal and added that people are still capable of harming the creature.
“It has to be a balance,” he said by telephone Wednesday.
Listed as critically endangered, the white-shouldered ibis can be found along the Cambodia-Laos border, southern Vietnam and parts of Indonesia. Last month conservationists counted the largest number—161—ever recorded of the bird in Cambodia.
Bou Vorsak, Cambodia’s acting program manager for Birdlife International, said the area studied by Mr Wright is significant given that it also houses four other endangered species of birds.
To safeguard the site, Birdlife International has worked with local villagers, teaching them since 2004 how to monitor the bird’s patterns and persuading them not to capture or eat the ibis, Mr Vorsak said.
“It’s a really important landscape for wildlife,” he said. “Before people in the area did not know the importance of that bird species.”