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Vulture population soars amid conservation hopes

Vultures at Dongplet village in Chheb II commune of Preah Vihear province’s Chheb district in 2021.
Vultures at Dongplet village in Chheb II commune of Preah Vihear province’s Chheb district in 2021. Heng Chivoan

Vulture population soars amid conservation hopes

Conservationists applaud Cambodia’s efforts in safeguarding three vulture species on the brink of extinction. Nonetheless, experts express concerns about the challenges confronting Cambodia’s vulture population.

Bou Vorsak, the executive director of NatureLife Cambodia, points to the white-rumped vulture, red-headed vulture, and slender-billed vulture as three at-risk vulture species in Cambodia, all currently under threat of extinction.

Vorsak cites the vulture’s primary challenge as a dwindling food supply.

Previously, vultures thrived on animal carcasses in the wilderness. However, with a declining wildlife population in both Cambodia and neighbouring countries, they now rely on the remains of free-roaming domestic cows and buffaloes found in the forests.

“Vultures also face habitat loss due to deforestation. This loss robs them of their breeding grounds, compounded by the significant threat posed by pesticides,” Vorsak says.

“While these chemicals target other animals, vultures inevitably ingest them when they feast on poisoned prey, resulting in their immediate demise,” he explains.

As per the latest census conducted by the conservation team in 2022, a total of 134 vultures were recorded, comprising 19 red-headed vultures, 42 slender-billed vultures, and 73 white-rumped vultures.

Vorsak notes that this year, the team has not yet released its report, but based on the 2022 census findings, Cambodia remains the sole refuge for these three vulture species, in contrast to neighbouring regions where these birds have succumbed to extinction.

“We should take pride in our ability to preserve the red-headed vulture, slender-billed vulture, and white-rumped vulture, all of which are categorised as critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List,” he underscores.

These vulture species can be found in Cambodia’s Stung Treng, Preah Vihear, Kratie, Mondulkiri, and Ratanakkiri provinces, with the highest concentration residing near the Cambodia-Laos border in Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district.

The Ministry of Environment’s September 2 social media said they, in collaboration with partner organisations, marks September 2 annually to foster awareness and participation in the safeguarding these remarkable birds.

Furthermore, as per a 2022 report from the Vulture Conservation Working Group in Cambodia, there was a 10.7 per cent increase in the vulture population across the three species of concern compared to the previous year. This marks the highest count since 2016.

The Vulture Conservation Working Group in Cambodia, comprising the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, and various NGOs, is collectively pursuing a ten-year conservation plan spanning from 2015 to 2025.


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