Cambodia has about 3,000 spot-billed pelicans, which account for around 30 per cent of the global population, Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said on October 29.

The species, also known by its scientific name Pelecanus philippensis, is labelled in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “Near Threatened”.

Pheaktra said that while the spot-billed pelican is still seen in Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, it is found to breed only in India, Sri Lanka and the Prek Toal area of northwestern Cambodia, the last such location in Southeast Asia.

Prek Toal is Cambodia’s largest bird sanctuary, located within the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve at the northwest corner of the Tonle Sap lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.

The spokesman said that major threats to the species are loss of breeding and staging habitats, wildlife trade, overhunting, egg collection from nesting colonies, and other forms of human disturbance.

“Spot-billed pelicans are under strict protection by environment officials and the Wildlife Conservation Society [WCS] in natural protected areas, especially at their breeding grounds in the Prek Toal Ramsar Site,” Pheaktra said.

The birds are closely observed and their numbers monitored, he said, adding that the global population is estimated at 8,700-12,000.

Found predominantly in lowland areas near water bodies, the pelicans prefer habitats such as ponds, swamps, lakes, lagoons, river and sea banks, he added.

He said the grey-coloured pelicans are on average 127-140cm long when fully-grown, and sport big long beaks with pouches that develop their identifying black spots as they mature, which are significantly more pronounced during the breeding season in November-May.

Females typically lay three or four eggs per clutch, he said, adding that parents fly with their chicks to different wetlands in Cambodia and neighbouring countries, only to return to the Tonle Sap Lake area during the breeding season.