In a promising sign for conservationists, the Bird Nest Protection Project by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia has dramatically boosted the numbers of rare bird nests at Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province, hopping from 11 nests in 2018 to an impressive 41 in 2023.

The increase reflects the success of efforts to protect nests in the sanctuary through local community initiatives, offering important benefits to the community, particularly in increasing finances through tourism.

Sot Vandoeun, WCS Cambodia’s wildlife monitoring coordinator, said protection efforts by local communities aid their livelihood and provide sustainable financial resources through conservation. 

“In partnership with government agencies, the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary Bird Nest Protection Project has increased the number of … nests from a minimum of 11 in 2018 to 41 in 2023, which demonstrates the effectiveness of community participation and awareness in wildlife conservation efforts,” he said.

“It is gratifying to see the community becoming more aware of our work. Support from both the community and partners is essential for the effective protection and conservation of rare bird species,” he added.

Vandoeun noted the renewable implementation of the organisation’s initiative and improvement in the community’s livelihood in a sustainable manner. 

Phay Nai, a woman from the Bunong minority ethnic community in the region, expressed her interest in a rare species of bird upon spotting a nest of an endangered giant ibis near her home. 

She and her family began participating in conservation work with the WCS Wildlife Research Group to identify the area as an important nesting site for the giant and small ibis, to be included in the protection effort.

WCS Wildlife Research Group found nesting site for the giant and small ibis at Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province on November 22, 2023. WCS

Following the inclusion of the area in the initiative, Nai and her family became guardians of the nests, earning a daily wage and additional income for each discovered nest. 

She noted the programme’s benefits to the eco-tourism sector, providing a sustainable source of income through wildlife conservation. 

“In the past, I did not know the importance of endangered species or the benefits of protecting them. I really appreciate their presence and am excited to see an increase in the number of nests,” she said.

The project commenced in 2017, implemented by WCS Cambodia with support from the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) framework, Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and USAID’s Morodok Baitang (or Green Heritage in Khmer) Project.

It aims to protect the nests of waterfowl and many rare bird species, including the giant ibis, sarus crane and small stork, as per WCS.