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A vulture prepares to take flight in Preah Vihear province on Saturday during the Kingdom’s first event to mark International Vulture Awareness Day.
A vulture prepares to take flight in Preah Vihear province on Saturday during the Kingdom’s first event to mark International Vulture Awareness Day. Hong Menea

Vultures ‘needed in north’

The role played by vultures in maintaining the environment by stripping the carcasses of dead animals was celebrated yesterday at an event in Preah Vihear province, where conservationists and officials pledged to do more to protect the species’ dwindling numbers.

More than 300 people turned out to join the Wildlife Conservation Society-hosted activities, which were supported by USAID’s Supporting Forests and Biodiversity project (SFB) implemented by Winrock International.

Tan Setha, deputy director of the Preah Vihear Protected Forest, said that over the past two decades the numbers of vultures found in the wild had dramatically decreased due to the use of chemicals injected into cattle, however, the main cause of the drop in numbers in Cambodia was a lack of available prey.

“The purpose of the celebration is to put on show the importance of vultures as environmental cleaners, because they consume [dead animals] which decay and are a source of harm to people,” he said.

About 90 to 100 vultures are known to inhabit the protected forest in Preah Vihear, he added, about half of the estimated population in Cambodia.

Khem Pan, deputy director of the Forestry Administration office at the protected forest, said that the vultures were also a much-needed source of income for the local population, which sells tickets to tourists who come to watch the birds feed twice a month.

“At the feeding events, we kill two cows twice a month to feed the vultures. Of course, we only do it when tourists visit the area. As well as educating the people, we preserve the vultures’ eggs so that they won’t face extinction [in Cambodia],” he said.

Preah Vihear Protected Forest is also home to a number of other rare and endangered species, such as the giant ibis, white-shouldered ibis, elephants, guars and bantengs.

According to a recent official report, the forest contains three ecotourism sites – at O’Korko, Veal Kruos and Veal Kbal Damrey. Since 2008, the attraction brought in 343 tourists and brought in $45,000 to the local economy.

Illegal logging and wildlife trading remain persistent threats to the forest, however, with hundreds of cubic metres of luxury timber impounded each year in the area and logging and hunting equipment regularly confiscated by forestry officials, the report concluded.

Ith Phumara, Preah Vihear’s Forestry Administration director, acknowledged that there were “challenging problems” facing law enforcement in the forest.

“We just can’t cover the whole place because we don’t have many officials and it’s a huge area,” he said. “So we cannot respond to all the crimes. I recognise that.”

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