The number of river terns in the Mekong region increased to 71 birds this year, or nearly 130 per cent compared to the past seven years, the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia has announced.

The recording of 71 birds and three healthy chicks so far this year suggests the Mekong population of river terns is recovering, WWF said on May 24.

“The Mekong population of river terns remains stable for the past two years with 71 birds along with three healthy chicks recorded in 2023, says a report this week by the WWF’s Mekong Flooded Forest team on bird nest surveys conducted between February and April.

“This number represents an increase of almost 130 per cent compared with the survey results obtained around seven years ago, with a rise from only 31 birds in 2016 to 71 individuals this year.

“The birds and hatchlings are currently occupying 31 nests, which are under safeguard by the local communities living adjacent to the habitat areas along the Mekong in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces,” WWF said.

The WWF said the increase in river tern numbers was a reason for optimism.

“The current survey result is evidence that the river tern population has started to recover, raising hope for the species’ conservation in Cambodia and the world.

“In Cambodia, the bird’s population had suffered serious decline, with a more than 80 per cent decrease during the past 20 years, mainly due to human activities.

“Uplisted to Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List, the river tern is one of the rare bird species in South East Asia,” it said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that as a conservationist, he was excited about the increasing numbers in Cambodia of such a rare species as the river tern.

“River tern numbers had suffered in the past due to human activities in their habitat such as hunting and the use of snares.

“The increasing number of river terns is partly due to the participation in of local people in conservation efforts as they understand the importance of protecting rare species, as well as efforts in protecting the river tern’s habitat for them to reproduce successfully,” he said.

Pheaktra called on all people, and especially those living along the river, to maintain efforts to conserve the Mekong’s bird species to make the area even more attractive to tourists.

The Ministry of Environment has said the main threats to the river tern include people collecting their eggs, a shortage of the fish species they feed on, and the vulnerability of their eggs and chicks to predatory birds and snakes.

Rising and falling water levels of the Sesan River due to dams in Vietnam was also a major threat as river terns spawned in the river’s muddy banks when water levels receded, it said.

Facing such challenges, conservationists have called for stronger conservation efforts from all stakeholders to protect the river tern from becoming extinct in Cambodia.