The Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project (CVCP), a partnership of Cambodian government ministries and international non-governmental organizations, successfully released two Critically Endangered vultures back to their range in northeastern Cambodia after two weeks of rehabilitation at the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Center, operated by the Forestry Administration of the Royal Government of Cambodia in partnership with Wildlife Alliance. The vultures took flight rapidly after they were released and were soon circling high above the team that had returned them to the release site.
On 1st March, CVCP Manager and Ministry of Environment staff member Pech Bunnat received a report of a number of dead vultures in Western Siem Pang (Stung Treng Province), an Important Bird Area in Cambodia, after consuming a poisoned dog. Two surviving birds were also found—one white-rumped vulture Gyps bengalensis and one slender-billed vulture Gyps tenuirostris. The well-coordinated response of the CVCP partners ensured the rapid transport of the surviving birds to the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Center. Upon arrival, the weak birds were immediately treated by the Wildlife Alliance team and over the two-week course of recovery, the birds were fed daily and carefully monitored. On 15th March, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team, implemented by the Forestry Administration and assisted by Wildlife Alliance, transported the birds back to Western Siem Pang. The Wildlife Conservation Society, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity and BirdLife International in Indochina also supported the birds' rehabilitation.
Mr. Nhek Ratanapich, Director of Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Center, was supportive of reintroducing the rehabilitated birds to the wild, demonstrating the Cambodian government's increasing interest in conservation and the positive direction in which wildlife policy is developing.
"I am very pleased to see that the birds have recovered well after their care at Phnom Tamao. The small, but increasing population of vultures in Cambodia will benefit from their return to the wild," says CVCP Manager Pech Bunnat.
The population collapse of vultures in Asia in the mid-1990's—largely due to the use of the drug diclofenac in cattle—created an urgent global need for solutions to this conservation crisis. Cambodia is one of the few countries where populations of Critically Endangered vultures have increased, thanks to the efforts of the Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project. Formed in 2004, the CVCP manages a successful, integrated program of research, monitoring, education and interventions (where necessary) to ensure the continued existence and growth of vulture populations in Cambodia. Numbers counted across Cambodia's Northern and Eastern Plains in 2009 are now over 260, up from 166 only five years before.
"Successful inter-agency collaboration saved these vultures," says Jonathan Eames, Programme Manager for BirdLife in Indochina. "The global populations of these two species are now so low that every individual counts and putting these two birds back into the wild is very important as the population here in Cambodia is so low."
"Staff at Phnom Tamao Zoo should be congratulated on the successful rehabilitation and release of these birds, as should the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Administration field staff who reacted quickly to the first reports of a poisoning incident," added Mark Gately, Director of the WCS Cambodia Program. "In future, it will be vital to expand education activities in rural communities, so that people are aware of the dangers posed by certain poisons to these very rare bird species."
Led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project was established in 2004 as a coalition of Government agencies and NGOs, including Birdlife International in Indochina, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Ministry of Environment (MoE), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). Support for these efforts is provided by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 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.