Data from surveys conducted recently in the Tonle Sap floodplain has revealed a remarkable increase of 54% in the numbers of a rare and threatened bird species, the Bengal Florican, between 2009 and 2010. A key factor in this increase is the success of site-based conservation in and around the floodplain, which forms the focus of conservation efforts by the Cambodian government, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other conservation partners.
The Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) is a large grassland bird that is classified as Critically Endangered with extinction by IUCN, and the surveys were conducted within the government's 312 km2 of Bengal Florican Conservation Areas. Roughly two-thirds of the global population breeds in seasonally flooded grasslands surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. There were an estimated 57 displaying males in 2009, rising to 88 in 2010. Surveys focus on displaying males because females and non-breeding males are highly secretive.
WCS and a consortium of non-governmental organizations supports government efforts to manage the reserves and to forge partnerships with local communities who traditionally use the same grasslands and wish to conserve them. Other factors contributing to the increase in floricans might include the arrival of displaced birds from areas of destroyed habitat elsewhere, and an increase in the proportion of males that displayed this year due to unusual weather conditions. Longer-term monitoring will help to clarify these possibilities.
The results cannot be taken to indicate an increase in the overall Cambodian population, since the majority is still in areas outside the reserves and is probably declining due to continued habitat loss (conversion of the grasslands to agriculture) and hunting. However, it is undoubtedly positive news that the protected element of the population has increased so sharply this year.
Project partners include WCS, the Forestry Administration, the Fisheries Administration, the Ministry of Environment, Centre d'Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC), the Sam Veasna Center (SVC), Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP), the University of East Anglia, and the Angkor Center for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB). Click here for the full report.