In Cambodia's four sanctuaries with vulture populations, there are 140 vultures currently present – a number considered small but encouraging among relevant ministries and partner organisations involved in the protection and preservation of the species.
According to a joint press release on the results of a census of the vulture population that took place on different days between July and August, there are three vulture species – red-head, slender-billed and white-rumped vultures – present at four main so-called vulture restaurants at four wildlife sanctuaries in four provinces – Siem Pang in Stung Treng; Chheb in Preah Vihear, Sambor in Kratie; and Srepok in Mondulkiri.
All three vulture species are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
“Cambodia’s vulture situation is indicating positive signs under the efforts of the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Working Group (CVCWG), but more protection is required. The results of last month’s census revealed a significant increase in the number of vultures in the Sambor Wildlife Sanctuary,” CVCWG said in the joint press release.
CVCWG scientists have applauded the census results as they observe International Vulture Awareness Day, held in the first week of September every year.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said it was a good result for CVCWG and the world.
“We appreciate the work of the ministry’s study working group and all of CVCWG’s partner organisations as well as all park rangers who are protecting and preserving wildlife sanctuaries where vultures are present,” he said.
Pheaktra said that as a result of this research, the scientists also recorded the return of slender-billed and white-rumped vultures to their habitat in the Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary after an absence of more than five years.
According to Pheaktra, the result of the vulture census at vulture restaurants in Sambo Wildlife Sanctuary of the Mekong Flooded Forest Landscape revealed that the combined number of the three vulture species has doubled in this area during the past two months, from 20 birds in late June to 41 in late August.
Seng Teak, World Wide Fund for Nature-Cambodia (WWF-Cambodia) country director, welcomed the news, saying he really encouraged all stakeholders to increase their efforts on a regular basis with the aim of increasing their numbers in the future.
“There are many professional institutions, park rangers, local authorities, local people and all partners who have achieved this result and managed protected areas, contributing to the survival of vultures. It is a positive development that offers hope for conservation in Cambodia,” he said.
According to the joint press release issued on International Vulture Awareness Day, Cambodian vulture scientists and researchers also expressed concern for endangered vultures in the country.
The main challenges for vultures are habitat loss, poisoning, lack of food and human interference.
Alistair Mold, chief executive officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society and co-chair of the CVCWG, said: “It is very important that we work closely with local authorities and communities to raise awareness and prevent activities that threaten the survival of vultures in Cambodia.”
According to the press release, the results of the June national vulture census reveals that there are a total of 121 vultures – 20 red-head, 66 white-rumped and 35 slender-billed vultures.
The fourth nationwide vulture census will be on September 20.
The press release said Cambodia is the last hope for these vulture species in Southeast Asia, but that number has halved in the past 10 years.
Vulture research and conservation activities in Cambodia began in 2004, when the first census recorded 162 vultures. According to the 2010 census, the number of vultures increased to 289.
However, from 2011 to 2014, the number of vultures decreased alarmingly. From mid-2014 to the present, the number of vultures is between 120 and 140.
In particular, the number of nests found in protected areas has also decreased from 27 in 2015 to 14 this year.
Bou Vorsak, executive director of NatureLife Cambodia and former manager of the BirdLife Cambodia Programme, said the last vulture nest was found in Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016. The nationwide decline is a concern, which requires research and increased measures to protect their nests.
“We call on authorities and the community to prevent the destruction of large trees that vultures choose to make their nests in and stop taking their eggs,” he said.