About 800 white-shouldered ibis, one of the world’s rarest and “critically endangered” bird species, have been found in Cambodia, accounting for 80 per cent of their total global population of 1,000. To protect its population, the Ministry of Environment and its conservation partners are continuing to call on people to stop setting snares and consuming bushmeat.

A January 11 joint press release issued by the ministry and seven partner organisations said the white-shouldered ibis carries a high risk of extinction globally if threats to it continue. This includes poaching, trapping and habitat loss.

“The global population of this species is only about 1,000. The nationwide census in 2022 recorded 792, accounting for around 80 per cent of their presence in the world,” the release said.

Officials said 2022 was the fourth year in a row that the consecutive census recorded high numbers of the birds, which shows conservation has improved. Although the number has declined in some areas, the total has increased. The highest numbers were recorded in the Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary (377) and in the Mekong floodplain (326). Other counts were conducted in the Koh Sralay, Kulen Prum Tep, Lumphat, Srepok and Phnom Prich wildlife sanctuaries.

Ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra said the government appreciated the joint efforts to protect and conserve natural resources and wildlife, and is pleased by the increases in the number of wildlife species recorded, including the white-shouldered ibis.

“This demonstrates the effectiveness of the action plans by the ministry and its partners, and demonstrates improvements in Cambodia’s natural resource conservation, public awareness and changes in public attitudes towards wildlife,” he added.

Seng Teak, country director of the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia, praised the increase in the number of white-shouldered ibis in the Kingdom, a positive result of joint efforts to conserve the species.

“As a member of the White-shouldered Ibis Wildlife Conservation Working Group in Cambodia, WWF is committed to continuing to work with the authorities, partner NGOs and local communities. We are protecting this endangered species by supporting law enforcement to protect the sanctuaries as well as introducing habitat protection mechanisms by the local community,” he said.

Jonathan Charles Eames, president of Rising Phoenix Co Ltd, a company focused on wildlife conservation, said it has made great efforts to not only count the number of the species, but also to protect the largest sanctuary outside the Siem Pang sanctuary.

“Our team has worked hard and devoted time to protecting this vital resource by searching and tracking the nests of about 45 white-shouldered ibis,” he added.

Bou Vorsak, Birdlife International Cambodia programme manager, said Cambodia supports the largest population of the white-shouldered ibis in the world, and the results of the 2022 census indicate a successful future. Stakeholders are preparing to implementation further action plans in order to conserve the endangered bird.

While celebrating the population increase of the white-shouldered ibis, the ministry issued fresh calls for people to stop setting snares, hunting, eating bushmeat or trading in wildlife.

A combination of law enforcement, local economic development and public education campaigns would continue to be employed to pursue its goals, it added.