By Mengey Eng
| September 04, 2017
(September 04, 2017) – Cambodia’s vultures are facing a high risk of extinction and have seen a 50 percent decline in number since the late 2000’s. Only 121 of the birds were recorded in this year’s national census, the lowest number on record since 2003. Recent reviews indicate that poisoning is the major threat to the vulture population in Cambodia. In recognition of International Vulture Awareness Day, conservationists are spreading the message about the plight of these animals and the importance of conserving them.
With global populations declining at an alarming rate, Cambodia’s three vulture species - Red-headed (Sarcogyps calvus), Slender-billed (Gyps tenuirostris), and White-rumped (Gyps bengalensis) - are all listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.
“Poisoning is probably the biggest threat to Cambodia’s vultures, and it’s bad for human health as well,” said Simon Mahood, WCS’s Senior Technical Advisor. “Strong efforts from government, conservation NGOs and local communities are required to save these vulture species.”
Threats to Cambodia’s vultures include habitat loss and food shortages caused by low numbers of wild ungulates and domestic cattle. Increased levels of forest loss and land conversion as a result of Economic Land Concessions, land encroachment and selective logging also negatively impact the birds through loss of nesting sites and reduction in prey availability. In addition, at least 30 vultures were killed over the past five years in Cambodia due to widespread indiscriminate use of deadly poisons by villagers across Cambodia, which is severely impacting the vulture population and threating human lives too.
“Ten years of conservation action has not stopped the decline. This year’s census result is extremely worrying, significant numbers of Cambodia’s vultures now only remain in Chhep and Siem Pang Kang Lech Wildlife Sanctuaries. Thank Ministry of Environment for designating these two areas as Protected Area,” said Mr. Bou Vorsak, Programme Manager with BirdLife. “In addition to habitat protection, awareness is needed to increase understanding among local communities and to reduce poisoning.”
In collaboration with Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery, a consortium of NGOs, including BirdLife International, WCS, WWF, and ACCB have been working to conserve Cambodia’s vultures by raising awareness, periodic supplementary feeding of birds with dead domestic cattle at “vulture restaurants,” and nest and habitat protection.
“Bushmeat demand has led to dramatic levels of wildlife poaching. Low food availability for vultures is a direct result of hunting predominately through the use of indiscriminate snaring and poisoning. Furthermore, some local communities use poison in or around waterholes aiming to catch birds and other small mammals. This activity is the key driver causing to the death of more than 30 individuals as vultures feed on the poisoned wildlife carcasses,” said Mr. Seng Teak, WWF’s Country Director.
“Vultures are very important birds. They play key roles to clean up the environment, control the spread of diseases and bacteria and can generate sustainable income to local communities through ecotourism. I would encourage everyone to help conserve vultures by not purchasing or eating wild meat. Eating poisoned meat is bad for health,” said Ny Naiky Cambodia’s Vulture Conservation Project Coordinator.
Vulture conservation in Cambodia would not be possible without support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). International Vulture Awareness Raising activities were funded by NatureLife Cambodia, USAID, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Conservation Leadership Programme, and AFD, Sam Veasna Center and the EU in Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary.