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NGOs decry vulture decline

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Vultures pick at an animal carcass on the Kingdom’s eastern plains. WCS Cambodia

NGOs decry vulture decline

Vultures in the Kingdom are facing an increasingly high risk of extinction as the birds have shown a 50 per cent decline in numbers since the late 2000s, a joint announcement from environmental organisations said on Saturday, quoting a report.

The report showed that declines have become particularly noticeable across forestlands in the country’s eastern plains, where historically as many as 30 animals were recorded during a single count. Current surveys often top out at 10.

“It is of great concern that only 121 of these majestic birds were recorded in this year’s national census, the lowest number on record since 2003. Recent assessments indicate that poisoning is the major threat to vulture populations in Cambodia,” the report continued.

Officials cited in the document say that the country’s three vulture species, the red-headed, slender-billed and white-rumpled, are all on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, indicating they are critically endangered.

“Northern Cambodia is the only place in Southeast Asia where vultures can still be found in large numbers. Tourists come to see them at our vulture restaurant at Dong Phlet in Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary.

“But during the past five years, at least 30 vultures have been killed in Cambodia due to widespread indiscriminate use of deadly poisons and pesticides across the country, which is severely impacting the vulture population and also threatening human lives,” said Simon Mahood, a senior technical advisor at the Kingdom’s Wildlife Conservation Society.

He said that besides poisoning, Cambodia’s vultures suffer from habitat loss and food shortages caused by low numbers of wild ungulates (hoofed animals) and domestic cattle.

Increased levels of forest loss, land conversion and poaching as a result of economic land concessions, land encroachment and selective logging have negatively impacted the birds through a loss of nesting sites and reduction in natural prey availability as snaring for wild meat has dramatically increased across Cambodia.

“Results of vulture censuses in the last five years show a worrying trend, as less than 130 birds were counted in 2017 and 2018,” said Bou Vorsak, Cambodia program manager of BirdLife International.

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