SOS is delighted to share project activities, challenges and successes to date of the Birds’ Nest protection programme. Project team leader, Simon Mahood, Technical Advisor with the IUCN member Wildlife Conservation Society’s Cambodia Programme (WCS), reflects on ten years of conservation work with local communities to protect some of Cambodia’s most threatened bird species.
Simon begins by explaining large waterbirds are most vulnerable before they fledge.
Whilst they are still in the nest, either as eggs or chicks, they are defenseless against human predators. Eggs and chicks are a nutritious source of food for the rural poor, easy to obtain and low cost. However, when species populations are low, even the year on year taking of a few eggs can have a major impact. In the absence of human predation, most waterbirds can raise two, three or even four chicks in a single year, allowing populations to recover relatively fast if they are effectively protected.
Cambodia supports a suite of large waterbird species, most of which are globally threatened. A number of these species have been lost from most of their former range owing to the synergistic impacts of habitat loss and hunting. For birds such as the Critically Endangered Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantean), Cambodia remains its last global stronghold. For other less threatened species, such as the Near-threatened Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), Cambodia is the only country in the region that still supports a population. Cambodia has retained populations of these large birds which have declined or been lost from elsewhere because it has a lower human population and vast areas of natural habitat. Whilst dry-forests have been almost completely lost from countries such as Thailand, Cambodia still supports large expanses of open dry Dipterocarp forest in the north and east.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s WCS scientists realized that Cambodia’s vital populations of large waterbirds were in decline. In some parts of the country, such as the flooded forest of the Tonle Sap Great Lake, the cause was obvious. Wholesale collection of eggs and chicks took place annually: boats containing literally thousands of birds eggs were seen coming out of the waterbird colony. Working with the Ministry of Environment, WCS recruited egg collectors as colony guardians. Teams of colony guardians were stationed on tree-top platforms throughout the flooded forest and a comprehensive monitoring program established. The results were dramatic. Likewise, the waterbird colony at Prek Toal has grown rapidly and is now the biggest in Southeast Asia. Species such as Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) that numbered less than 300 pairs in 2003 now number at least 7,000 pairs. The number of Endangered Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) have been increasing annually, from less than 30 pairs in 2004 to nearly 200 in 2014, making it the largest colony in the world. Prek Toal now supports more than 50,000 pairs of waterbirds, driving increases in species populations across the region.
At the same time in the Northern Plains WCS established a similar scheme with the Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment: the Birds’ Nest Protection Programme. In the dry forest most of the large waterbirds nest singly. When people encounter their nests they typically take the eggs or chick, either to eat as a snack in the forest or for sale in the village for a few dollars. Under the Birds’ Nest Protection Programme, local people who find nests of threatened species are paid a small cash reward. WCS facilitates a discussion in the village and a nest guardian is selected. The nest guardian is paid a small daily fee to protect the nest. If the chicks fledge successfully then the nest guardian receives a bonus equivalent to double their nest protection fee. The average payment per nest guardian is $USD 80-150, which is significant in the local context where average annual incomes are less than $USD 500. We have shown that nest success rates increase from less than 40% for unprotected nests to more than 80% for protected nests. More than 3,300 nests of threatened waterbirds have been protected since the scheme began, fledging nearly 6,000 chicks. In ten years of the Bird’s Nest Protection Programme to date we have achieved so much by working with the local community members. Looking ahead, I hope we can build on this experience for even greater successes over the next ten.
This is just one of many community oriented bird conservation projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling issues like illegal wildlife trade. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.
To learn more about the Birds’ Nest Protection Programme and the other activities to protect a suite of Northern Cambodia’s threatened birds, explore the links on the right hand side.