The first Bengal florican breeding facility in the world has been set up at Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) in the Kbal Spean archaeological site of Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district.
Banteay Srei district governor Khim Finan on November 25 said the facility would provide a safe environment for the endangered terrestrial birds to nest and raise their young, and potentially mount a comeback.
Known scientifically as Houbaropsis bengalensis, the Bengal florican is a member of the bustard family and is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as “critically endangered”.
Finan said Bengal florican eggs found in the forest will be hatched under artificial conditions, and that the chicks will remain in the facility until they reach laying age and are added to the breeding programme.
The idea is to eventually release all chicks into the wild, he said, stressing that the bustards are only found in Cambodia, India and Nepal.
He underscored that the facility “is a source of pride for Cambodia and a crucial first step which raises hopes of altering the fate of this rare bird.
“As Cambodians, we all have to be involved in safeguarding this species.”
The grassland birds are known in Khmer as “khsoep” and called “kngok tep” (divine peacocks) or “tromeak andoeuk” (turtle drivers) by some locals, the governor shared.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on November 26 that his ministry and conservation partners have jumped through hoops to ensure biodiversity persistence, above all when it comes to rare species such as the Bengal florican.
“Setting up these Bengal florican breeding grounds is part of efforts to protect and conserve rare and threatened species to be perpetuated and remain viable for generations to come,” he said.
Experts estimate that there were 119 Bengal floricans in the Kingdom in 2019, down 68 per cent from 376 in 2005, despite extensive conservation efforts, according to Pheaktra.
He said the environment and relevant ministries and NGO partners are actively engaged in the preservation of the bustard, strictly enforcing applicable laws and ordinances, and protecting their breeding grounds and habitats located primarily in lowland areas around Tonle Sap Lake.
A recent review estimated the global population of Bengal floricans at fewer than 500, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported in June, noting that the subspecies Houbaropsis bengalensis blandini breeds exclusively in the Kingdom.
Experiencing a particularly sharp population decline in recent years, birds of this subspecies are mainly found in Kampong Thom province, with fewer numbers found in neighbouring Siem Reap province to the northwest, and a handful persisting in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Pursat provinces, according to WCS Cambodia.
More alarming still, Cambridge-based BirdLife International in 2013 predicted that the subspecies would become extinct by 2023, in a study published in quarterly peer-reviewed journal Bird Conservation International.
The Bengal florican is the sole member of its genus Houbaropsis, and the rarest member of the bustard order, Ortidiformes, according to the Edge of Existence programme.
“Two thirds of the global population breed in the floodplain of the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia – they migrate up to 100km annually to escape the floodwaters in the non-breeding season,” it said.