A new 10-year action plan proposed by a host of NGOs aims to reverse the fortunes of Cambodia’s national bird, the giant ibis, which faces increasing pressure from human encroachment in its dwindling habitat.
With fewer than 200 mature individuals now believed to survive in the wild, the giant ibis is listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Where it was once widespread throughout Southeast Asia, the wading birds are now almost exclusively found in a handful of locations in northeast Cambodia.
The giant ibis relies on natural watering holes and surrounding areas for foraging and has traditionally existed in remote parts of the forest far from human activity.
But a series of environmental circumstances, including land-clearing for agriculture, have left the species in a perilous situation.
According to Robin Loveridge, a technical adviser at conservation NGO BirdLife International, preserving these last remaining strongholds is vital to the survival of the giant ibis in the wild.
“One of the priorities of the action plan is to create a focus on conserving this species within each of the protected sites where it still occurs,” he said.
Key to the plan, which its authors estimated will cost $11 million to implement but has not yet been endorsed by the government, is the establishment of designated protection areas for the birds based on where they are currently known to be living.
The report also highlights the need for a giant ibis working group, which will bring together government representatives and conservation experts to share information on new research and conservation measures.
According to Loveridge, in July, the organisations involved in drafting the action plan agreed to set such a group up that will be co-chaired by senior officials from the Environment Ministry and Forestry Administration.
The working group will have to face a number of serious challenges to conservation efforts, including the clearing of forests for agriculture and infrastructure projects and the threat from natural predators.
Logging also presents a particular threat because the giant ibis prefers to nest in exactly the sort of tall and straight trees that are ideal sources of timber.
The species is also extremely sensitive to humans, so as their habitat has been encroached upon, the birds have been driven away from some of the watering holes they previously relied on.
Critical to conservation efforts is convincing local communities to abandon hunting and environmentally destructive farming practices.
“Overall success of this intervention may depend on it being implemented in combination with a strong community engagement program,” the report states.