Latest census information has revealed that vulture population numbers are increasing in Cambodia. Researchers report that record numbers of vultures have been counted in Cambodia's annual vulture census, with 296 birds of three species found at multiple sites across the Northern and Eastern Plains of Cambodia. The census was conducted by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, a partnership of conservationists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The record count means that Cambodia is home to the only increasing population of vultures in Asia. Specifically, the census indicates that the country's population of white-rumped vultures is increasing; populations of red-headed and slender billed vultures were found to be stable. All three of Cambodia's vulture species are listed as "Critically Endangered" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Vulture populations in Southeast Asia are primarily threatened by the declining number of large herbivores in the region, but have been largely unaffected by a far greater threat to Asia's vultures: the veterinary drug diclofenac. Widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle in South Asia, diclofenac is toxic to vultures, causing death through renal failure and visceral gout to birds that feed on the cattle carcasses and has led to global population declines higher than 99 percent in some vulture species.
The census success follows a record breeding season for vultures in Cambodia. This year, a total of 36 vulture chicks fledged from colonies across the north and east of the country, an increase from last year's total of 19 chicks
Vulture conservation efforts in Cambodia are the result of a number of activities promoted by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. For instance, vulture nests are protected by local community members who are paid a small fee for their support. This ensures that vulture nesting success is greatly improved and also benefits local community members who often have few other sources of income during the dry season, which coincides with the vulture breeding season. Vulture food sources are supplemented by 'vulture restaurants,' feeding stations that also give visitors the opportunity to see these huge birds up close.
The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project is a partnership of different government agencies and conservation organisations led by WCS and also includes the Forestry Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the General Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection of the Ministry of Environment, BirdLife International in Indochina, Worldwide Fund for Nature, Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) and Conservation International. Support for these efforts is provided by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ACCB, WWF US and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.