The White-shouldered Ibis is a relatively largely bird species, classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List. This species is native to small regions of Southeast Asia. Populations of the White-shouldered Ibis declined severely in the late 20th century. Today, the global population is estimated at just 1,000 individuals, of which 670 are mature.
Cambodia, by far, forms this species’ stronghold with the majority of the global population of individuals found here. The Cambodian White-shouldered Ibis subpopulation resides in Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary, Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary, the Eastern Plains Landscape, and along the Mekong River of Sambo Wildlife Sanctuary. However, these populations are threatened by habitat loss, the removal of the nest, and roosting trees through illegal logging, poisoning of water sources, and other human disturbance.
Cambodian Ibis conservation partners began to conduct annual censuses for the species in 2009 within four of these important locations. The first census count was just 310 birds. During the four years following this initial count, the number increased to a high of 973 individuals in 2013. Sadly, the populations declined notably during 2015 and 2016 with numbers dropping to less than 500 individuals.
In 2021, a partnership consisting of the Ministry of Environment, NatureLife/Birdlife in Cambodia, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), and Rising Phoenix conducted a simultaneous White-shouldered Ibis census across Cambodia. The consortium launched four monthly (July to October) censuses of this species over the wet season with the August count resulting in a high of 754 individuals. These are very encouraging results and indicate a gradual increase in numbers of this important and Critically Endangered species.
Specifically, the 2021 census identified Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary as an important site for the White-shouldered Ibis with a total of 373 individuals. Sambo wildlife sanctuary in Kratie is the second most important site with 252 individuals. Most other sanctuaries showed promising results and gradually increasing numbers of this species.
H.E. Net Pheaktra, Secretary of State and Spokesperson, Ministry of Environment said that “Since Cambodia becomes a country of peace, we have more opportunities and possibilities to perform natural resource and biodiversity conservation work more effectively. The conservation of natural resources has been improving and the increase in the number of white-shouldered ibis and some rare species is the result of our effort between the Ministry of Environment and our partnership organizations that have been actively, responsibly, and professionally contributing to protecting and conserving the remaining biodiversity for our future generation. On behalf of the Ministry of Environment, I would like to thank all partners in white-shouldered ibis protection and conservation and urge all our citizens to help and contribute to the conservation of these rare animals because they are highly valued for biodiversity and global conservation and they are valuable for ecotourism in attracting more tourists and making more income for communities, resulting in national economic grow”
“I welcome and congratulate the consortium for the result of the 2021 nationwide census, which represents a positive step of the collective efforts by the Ministry of Environment and all partners in the White-shouldered Ibis protection and in reversing the decline of this critically endangered large bird in the near future,” said Mr. Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF-Cambodia. “As a member of the consortium, WWF will continue to work closely together with all actors involved to support the national census and conservation efforts of the species, and continue to actively engage the local communities in the Mekong Flooded Forest landscape in safeguarding this rare bird species and its nests in their natural habitats,” he added.
Dr. Ken Sereyrotha, WCS Country Program Director said that “White-shouldered Ibis is an important and iconic species for the Northern Plains of Cambodia, generating important eco-tourism-based revenues for communities in Tmat Paeuy, Preah Vihear. WCS is looking forward to working more closely with the Ministry of Environment, local communities, and Cambodian Ibis Working Group to ensure that these globally important birds are part of Cambodian natural heritage for years to come.”
Mr. Bou Vorsak, CEO of NatureLife/BirdLife in Cambodia said that “Cambodia is the last hope for conserving the White-shouldered Ibis from extinction, the 2021 census indicates a promising future, however, this bird needs continued attention from all stakeholders. We request to establish the Cambodian Ibis Working Group to leverage more resources and knowledge to address its priority threats.”
Ms. Christel Griffioen, Country Director of ACCB said that “The Cambodian Ibis Working Group is a good example of implementing the One Plan approach to White-shouldered Ibis conservation. By uniting expert knowledge and perspectives from all stakeholders we can bridge the gap between wild and captive population management and improve conservation efforts for the species. Only together will we be able to save the species from extinction.”