Siem Reap – Bird watching initiatives are cropping up in many areas of Cambodia but the most renowned is the Sam Veasna center, which last year received the international Wild Asian Responsible Tourism award.
The center takes bird watching enthusiasts all over the country to view many of the 24 critically endangered bird species that can be found in Cambodia, including white-winged ducks, painted storks, Sarus Cranes and the meter-high Bengal Florican.
Preah Vihear is home to some key bird watching sites where the Sam Veasna center uses the local communities to provide accommodation, food and guides for their tour groups.
In 2007 – the project’s first year of operation – the 203 families of Tmatboey village, adjacent to the breeding grounds of the elusive Giant Ibis and the white shouldered Ibis of which there are less than 200 pair left in the world, earned $7,000 from tourism services.
"This is a significant injection into an economy where the average wage is between $300 and $350 per year,” said Nick Butler, coordinator of the Sam Veasna center.
"It also provides the community with the incentive to protect these birds rather than hunting them,” he said.
Populations of red-headed, slender-billed, white-rumped vultures are flourishing in Preah Vihear.
"Vulture restaurants” have recently opened for public viewing. These involve cow carcasses left by conservationists to lure vultures so they can observe and monitor vulture numbers from a nearby hide. Through the Sam Veasna center, keen bird watchers can also witness these rare scavengers in action.