By Mengey Eng
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| October 01, 2017
Preah Vihear (October 02, 2017) – Fifty globally Vulnerable Sarus Crane chicks hatched from 27 nests protected by conservationists of Ministry of Environment, WCS, and local communities in the Northern Plains of Cambodia, giving hope for the conservation of the species.
The Sarus Crane (Antigone antigone) is the tallest flying bird standing up to 165 cm tall. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable because its global population is rapidly declining due to widespread degradation and destruction of wetland habitats, human exploitation, and the effects of pollutants and poisons. This species lives only in Australia, Cambodia, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Its global population numbers around 10,000, of which 500 individuals live in Cambodia.
The Northern Plains of Cambodia consists of dry forests and seasonally flooded grassland habitats that provide key nesting habitat for this threatened species. WCS and the Ministry of Environment employ local community members to protect the nests of these birds that, due to their ground nesting behavior, are under particular threat from egg collection and predation. By incentivizing the conservation of threatened species such as the Sarus Crane, local people, who once collected these eggs for food, now protect these rare and beautiful birds.
“I saw a Sarus Crane nest with two eggs on the grassland while searching for wild fruits and mushrooms in the forest,” said Sen Neil, a local community member and Sarus Crane Nest Protector in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. “The WCS team hired me to protect the nest after I informed them. I spent almost two months guarding the nest with my fellow villager. We worked hard to guard against egg collection and predators until the two chicks were hatched, and left the nest with their parents.”
Mao Khean, WCS’s Wildlife Research Project Coordinator in the Northern Plains of Cambodia, said, “With support and cooperation from local villagers, rangers and the research team, we found 27 nests of globally Vulnerable sarus cranes in the Northern Plains this year. Ten nests are located in Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary, and 17 nests in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary.”
“We hired 44 local villagers to protect these nests because they can be threatened by consumption by wild pigs or domestic dogs, egg collection by local people, and flooding. Ultimately, 26 nests were successful and one nest was flooded by rain. 50 new chicks hatched and left the nests,” he added.
In recent years, there has been a worrying declining trend in the numbers of Sarus Cranes observed throughout Cambodia. The seasonally flooded grasslands of the Northern Plains, one of the few locations in Cambodia where the birds breed, are threatened by agricultural conversion to rice paddies. The annual Sarus crane Census counts in 2016 recorded the lowest number of Sarus Cranes in Cambodia and Vietnam since the synchronized counts began in 2001. The maximum monthly count was in February with 433 cranes.
“The Northern Plains is the Sarus Crane’s most important breeding site in Cambodia. Success of the Sarus Crane nest protection in the Northern Plains over the past five years has significantly contributed to conserving the species in the country,” said Song Chansocheat, Deputy Director of Environment in Preah Vihear Province. “Protecting the Northern Plains of Cambodia is needed to ensure continued breeding and the survival of the species in Cambodia.”
Nest protection in the Northern Plains of Cambodia is supported by the Akron Zoological Park, Sam Veasna Centre, the European Union, Agence Française de Développement, and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.