As the rare Sarus Crane makes its annual return to Banteay Meanchey to nest for the dry season, wildlife experts said yesterday that they have noticed a growing population of these birds – along with more than a dozen other vulnerable species returning to a sanctuary in the province.
Bird flocks in the Ang Trapaeng Thmor conservation area – built atop a notorious Khmer Rouge worksite – have grown by 20 per cent per species, including among populations of the Greater Adjutant Stork and the Greater Spotted Eagle.
The Sarus Crane – which is the tallest flying bird in the world, and currently listed as “vulnerable” – has done even better. Some 850 cranes are now in the province, compared to just 200 in 2001.
“I can see many [birds] spreading out around the rice fields and the reservoir itself compared to the previous two or three years – not many birds around that area [back then], except a few nesting,” said Johnny Orn, director of the Sam Veasna Center, which works to preserve bird life in the Kingdom.
Hong Chamnan, a project manager with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), credited the gains, in part, to cooperation from locals. “People understand the situation for the birds – they protect them very well with community management committees,” he said.
Community education programs about the natural and economic value of wildlife have largely been successful in stopping local poaching, while a land-sharing arrangement has pleased both farmers and environmentalists around the sanctuary, according to WCS.
Just over half of the 12,650-hectare conservation area is a “buffer zone” where rice farming is allowed but hunting and settling are not. People often don’t harvest all of their crops in time, which grants the birds a leftover feast, Chamnan said.
Sok Rithy, a commune chief who also works in conservation, said regular four-man patrols composed of volunteers also helped make a difference.
“Over the last few years, there has been no poaching,” he said. “Before, some people killed the cranes to sell to Thailand.”
Meanwhile, the farmers have found new income as eco-tourists’ guides. Local NGOs including WCS and the Sam Veasna Center teach locals to identify various bird species, which enables them to escort tourists for $10 apiece. The preserve gets hundreds of tourists per year.
“Some of these people once thought that the camera will take your soul,” said Orn. “Now, when our team comes, they want to use our cameras and binoculars to see the birds and learn about them.”
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda