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A giant ibis looks for food at a forest watering hole in Mondulkiri province in 2012
A giant ibis looks for food at a forest watering hole in Mondulkiri province in 2012. WWF

Positive outlook for the giant ibis: conservationists

Experts involved in the protection of Cambodia’s national bird, the giant ibis, have lauded the successes of an ongoing conservation scheme, and offered cause for optimism that the animal can overcome its current status as critically endangered.

According to Alistair Mould of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Birds Nest Protection Program has seen nest numbers for 10 globally threatened bird species – including the giant ibis – rise from 46 to more than 250 between 2003 and 2014, while the number of chicks who have grown the feathers for flight rose from 53 to over 400 for the same period.

“This indicates the importance of continued support to this effective project,” Mould said.

The program was first established in 2002 by Cambodia’s Forestry Administration, with WCS providing assistance in locating, protecting and monitoring nest sites. Since 2013, USAID’s Supporting Forests and Diversity Project (USAID SFB) has also taken part, supporting a payment program for the oversight of the birds’ protection.

The scheme sees local residents paid up to $5 for each report of a new nest. In the case of giant ibis nests, they are also then paid for regular monitoring during the roughly 70 day period between chicks hatching and taking flight.

In the past, over-hunting and egg theft devastated giant ibis numbers, while in more recent years forest clearing has taken a heavy toll. Although those activities continue, the protection program has helped reverse their effects – with former hunters often employed as community rangers charged with finding and monitoring nests.

According to Mould, the program has seen 181 giant ibis nests protected in the birds’ habitat in Cambodia’s Northern Plains since 2004, with an average of 16 nests found and 29 chicks fledging annually.

Yet the bird remains listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a designation based on a species seeing a more than 80 per cent historic decline and having less than 250 mature individuals surviving in the wild.

But for Mould, the gains made in recent years warrant optimism for the future: “We anticipate that, supported by USAID SFB, the Northern Plains would continue to demonstrate increases in populations.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated "chicks who have grown the wings for flight" when it should have said "feathers".
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