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River Terns population on the rebound along Mekong

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River Terns are seen along the Mekong River earlier this month. WWF-CAMBODIA

River Terns population on the rebound along Mekong

The population of River Terns continues to rise, having doubled in the past five years and spurring hopes for the species’ conservation, according to initial findings by researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Cambodia) who have begun conducting annual bird surveys.

A total of 68 close encounters with River Terns, known by their scientific name Sterna aurantia, were documented along the Mekong landscape between Kratie and Stung Treng provinces and the Laos border during initial bird surveys – up slightly from 64 last year and up dramatically from only 31 observed in 2016, according to a WWF-Cambodia press release.

Researchers observed the birds hunting for fish among rapids and roaming the natural sandbar habitat for mating.

WWF-Cambodia Biodiversity Research and Monitoring manager Ean Sam Un described the River Terns as medium-sized birds with forked tails, black caps and white bellies. He noted that they are more visible during their breeding season which started in January and continues until May.

Sam Un added that researchers were particularly excited with the current count, which resulted from just their initial surveys.

WWF-Cambodia country director Seng Teak said: “This is such a rewarding news for Cambodia and the region,” adding that concerted conservation efforts have reversed the curve of species’ decline and brought hope for its recovery in Cambodia and the region.

“I would like to commend the tireless efforts in protected area management, law enforcement and community engagement by the provincial and local government, especially the provincial departments of Environment and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, all involved partners and WWF-Cambodia, as well as the participation from the local communities in the habitat areas,” Teak said.

WWF-Cambodia noted that River Terns are one of the rarest bird species in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, their numbers have declined by 80 per cent over the past 20 years, and the nationwide population was estimated at just 54 to 62 individuals in 2018.

The primary threats to the species include habitat disturbance by human activities, nest flooding, hunting for their eggs and predation by domestic cattle and other wildlife.

Due to these concerns, the International Union for Conservation of Nature recently reclassified the bird, upgrading the seriousness of its status from ‘Near Threatened’ to ‘Vulnerable’ on their Red List.

WWF-Cambodia noted that last year, a total of 47 nests of River Terns were guarded by local communities along the Mekong habitat.

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