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Little reason to cheer vulture figures: NGO

Little reason to cheer vulture figures: NGO

Vultures may not be topping many favourite animal lists, but conservationists say the critically endangered bird could soon be added to the Kingdom’s catalogue of extinct species if something isn’t done to boost their numbers.

Cambodia’s annual census of the threatened bird of prey this year revealed 214 of them, the second-lowest population estimate since records began in 2004, according to BirdLife International Cambodia. The conservation group drew a considerably more dire conclusion than a government report last month, which counted 204 birds as a slight uptick.

BirdLife said the government figures were a case of comparing apples and oranges, as they were not inclusive of all colonies. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries declined to comment.

The nation’s vulture population is estimated during a carnivorous frenzy that takes place at so-called vulture restaurants, where a consortium of five NGOs lay out dead cows stripped of their hides at seven sites then count the population that comes to feast.

According to BirdLife, this year’s total count included 25 red-headed, 137 white-rumped and 52 slender-billed vultures. All are critically endangered species.

“We cannot say conclusively that the population is declining, but in some areas, very few birds came, and in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri, the colony size is clearly decreasing,” said Bou Vorsak, BirdLife’s country program manager.

“The major threat to vultures is a lack of food,” Vorsak said, adding that forest disturbance caused by logging has led to a loss of nesting habitat. Earlier this year, a vulture colony in Mondulkiri was uprooted when a Vietnamese company began clearing the forest, the conservation group said.

BirdLife found that 80 per cent of the total counted population was sighted in just a single location, in Western Siem Pang in Stung Treng.

Another concern is poisoning, caused when the vultures feed on cows that have been treated with anti-inflammatory antibiotics. In February, 13 vultures were found dead in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest, according to the provincial Forestry Administration.

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