Group Says Efforts To Protect Birds Successful

Efforts to preserve the endangered Bengal Florican and other threatened bird species around the Tonle Sap Lake were largely successful last year, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In 2007, at least four companies that had begun work on large-scale irrigation systems in the birds’ habitats have pulled the plug on their projects following negotiations with provincial authorities in Siem Reap and Kompong Thom provinces, WCS Technical Adviser Tom Evans said Tuesday.

Three of the four companies were in Siem Reap, where Evans said “the provincial authorities have recognized that the grasslands have value beyond what can be gained by companies turning these areas into reservoirs.”

About a year ago, there were approximately 1,300 of the black and white Bengal Floricans in existence worldwide. Now, Evans puts that number at less than 1,000, with about 650 of that population residing in Cambodia and the remainder in India and Nepal.

In addition to the Bengal Florican, which is probably the most threatened species in the area, the Sarus Crane, White-shouldered Ibis and Greater Spotted Owl have benefited from the conservation project.

Hong Chamnan, the Forestry Administration’s conservation project manager, said Kompong Thom authorities have been experiencing more commercial pressure due to the much larger area of grasslands that they have to protect—more than 300 square km.

Since August 2006, WCS has been working with provincial authorities to set aside a total of 350 square km across the two provinces as “integrated farming and biodiversity areas” where small-scale farmers can continue with their livelihoods undisturbed.

Farmers are integral to maintaining the balance of the grasslands, according to Evans, because the area reverts back into “scrub” when not cultivated, rendering it uninhabitable by the birds.

“Less intensive farming systems have a lot of biodiversity associated with them that could be lost with high input production farming systems that use a lot of construction, fertilizers and pesticides,” he said.

Evans said there are many companies still instigating development projects in the grasslands and that in aggregate last year, more grassland was lost than saved.

“The decline is still severe, but there have been some significant reversals…. We’ve seen enough signs of success that there’s hope for the species and hope for their habitat,” he said.

Sin Singlay, a Kompong Thom forestry administration officer, said that he did not have information about companies that had stopped developing, but said he knew of a few small-scale development projects still under way inside the restricted zone.

(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)

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