Observers from BirdLife International spotted higher-than-expected numbers of the giant ibis, Cambodia’s national bird, in Stung Treng province last month, according to Bou Vorsak, BirdLife Cambodia’s acting program director.
The monthly monitoring trips in Siem Pang district near the Lao border usually record sightings of one or two of the critically endangered ibises but, during a 15-day trip in March, Mr Vorsak said the team spotted 16 birds, some in large flocks of up to five at a time, the first such sighting since the program started five years ago in the district.
“There are five critically injured bird species living in Siem Pang and monitoring is very important because the area is outside of the protected area system,” Mr Vorsak said.
He added with this sighting positive survey, the next step will be to collaborate with the Forestry Administration to request that the area be granted protected status.
The area is also home to four other critically endangered bird species: the white-shouldered ibis, white-rumped vulture, slender-billed vulture and the red-headed vulture.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the giant ibis has dark feathers, measures between 102 and 106 cm in wingspan and is very similar to the white-shouldered ibis. The majority of the population lives in northern Cambodia but its population is declining because of hunting, deforestation and converting land for agricultural use.
Mr Vorsak said giant ibises, whose population is estimated to be as low as 200, are shy compared to the white-shouldered ibis.
“The white-shoulder ibis, if they see people, they won’t return to a feeding area for a couple of hours. But if giant ibises see people, they won’t return for a month,” Mr Vorsak said.
Mr Vorsak said in addition to carrying out surveys on the local bird population, BirdLife works closely with local populations, work that he says is partly responsible for the increased sighting. BirdLife has outreach programs to educate local populations about hunting and eating the birds, he said, adding that BirdLife also offers monetary incentives to protect bird nests and to turn former bird hunters into part of the observation team.