A river bird that was once a common sight along the Mekong River is now down to a population of just 50 to 60 individuals due to human interference and dam construction, conservationists and Environment Ministry officials said yesterday.
Conservationists are hoping to secure the support of the government in expanding nest protection programmes for the river tern, an elegant bird that breeds on sandbars along the Mekong and Sekong rivers between Kratie province and the Laos border.
At a workshop with ministry officials in Phnom Penh yesterday, wildlife consultant Andrea Claassen said the river tern faces threats from people and animals harvesting its eggs for consumption.
Hydropower dam developments also cause sandbars to flood during breeding season, leaving river terns without a habitat to lay their eggs, she said.
“It would be very sad for the Cambodian people [to lose the river tern] because it’s a very beautiful bird, very iconic bird, and a symbol of the river system in Cambodia,” Claassen said.
Ministry of Environment Secretary of State Yin Kim Sean said conservation work was initiated in 2010 but needs to be further coordinated and promoted at the local level.
“The declining number of river terns is due to the loss of eggs . . . as well as disruption of the habitat of eggs and chicks from other human activities, such as clearing land and fishing,” Kim Sean said.
The river tern, known as rompei tonle in Khmer, is considered “near threatened”, which means it is likely to become endangered in the near future. The largest concern is the Sambor dam in Kratie, which, if built, may destroy a large portion of remaining breeding habitat for river terns in Cambodia, according to conservationists.
Bou Vorsak, the Cambodia programme manager of Birdlife International, said the estimated number of river terns in Cambodia dropped by 60 percent over the last decade, from a high of around 300 individuals in the late 1990s.
“Recent research shows that not only the river terns, but many other species of rare birds are also being threatened,” Vorsak said.
The working group is set to finalise the action plan next month but said it likely will involve expanding a programme to pay community members to guard river tern nests from animals and other people.