Reviving sarus crane populations in Cambodia and Viet Nam

An isolated population of sarus crane (Antigone antigone), a species globally at risk of extinction, has long persisted in Cambodia and Viet Nam. There are 12th century etchings of dancing sarus cranes carved on the walls of the Bayon temple in Angkor Wat. Sadly, the future of the species in the region is uncertain.

Sarus crane

The present population of sarus cranes comprises fewer than one thousand individuals and faces many threats. However a strategy to conserve these cranes cannot be devised without knowing their ecological requirements. To determine which ecological factors might be limiting and whether these constraints can be eased by conservation action, a project is being undertaken by Robert van Zalinge of Charles Darwin University, with funding from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, administered by IUCN.

Cranes are highly mobile” says Robert. “It means we have to do research across much of the country to know what’s going on.”

During the breeding season the cranes live in northern Cambodia’s deciduous forests. Here Robert and Kit Sokny, his Cambodian colleague, are partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society to understand how they select nest sites and what determines their success rates.

During the non-breeding season, which coincides with the region’s dry season, most cranes move out of the rapidly drying forests to wetlands in the Tonle Sap basin and the Mekong Delta. Here, the team is working with both the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust to conduct research on crane foraging behaviour and food availability at four study sites in different ecological settings.

Each site has its own dynamics,” says Robert, “and each is used by the cranes in different ways and at slightly different times.”

Fortunately, members of local community conservation groups have been participating as data collectors in the research team, both adding to the amount of data that can be collected and increasing their understanding of sarus crane behaviour and ecological requirements. Community involvement in the overall research is seen as essential if there is to be local understanding of the conservation issues at each site. It will also put them in a better position to manage the sites in the future.

The current project ends in November 2015. After conducting one further season of fieldwork and analysing the findings, a workshop with key stakeholders will be held to prepare a species action plan based on an in-depth scientific analysis of ecological requirements and current threats to the sarus crane. This will lay out the steps needed to bring about a population recovery in the region.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, 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.

IUCN is leading the second phase (2013-2018) of CEPF's work in the Indo-Burma hotspot, working together with the Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-conservation Network (MERN) and Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) to form the CEPF Regional Implementation Team (RIT).

About the grantee

Charles Darwin University in Australia is currently listed in the Times top 100 universities which are under 50 years old. Within the university, the Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods undertakes multi-disciplinary research spanning biophysical and social sciences on biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Postgraduate students come from most countries in Southeast Asia and there are formal relationships with other research institutions across the region. University staff have experience in research on both individual species and ecosystem management, including extensive research in wetlands management.

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