The 2011 Cambodian census of White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni has found a larger number of birds than ever before, but celebrations are muted, as this species’ survival is imminently threatened by serious habitat loss.
The total of 543 birds, counted concurrently in four key sites, was a record exceeding the 428 individuals at the same time last year. Nevertheless, the larger number provides little extra long-term security for this species, as up to 85% of these birds are at risk of losing their habitat from change in land use in the near future.
White-shouldered Ibis is classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of IUCN, of which Cambodia is a member. This means there is a high probability that the species will go extinct in the near future – a route already trod by Cambodia’s national animal, the Kouprey.
As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Cambodia has an international duty to conserve this and other endangered species. As a result of habitat loss, the species is extinct from its former range in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, and a very small population in Indonesian Borneo (previously estimated at 30-100 individuals) has also declined.
Cambodia now supports at least 95% of the global population of this species and is therefore a vital last stronghold. In the wet season, the ibises flock together at roosting sites making it possible to count them. Loss of its remaining habitat in Cambodia is now the biggest single threat to White-shouldered Ibis. Although nationwide counts of White-shouldered Ibis have provided higher estimates of the Cambodian population than previously known, conservationists are cautious to claim the population has been growing.
A consortium of organisations comprising BirdLife International, the Cambodian Forestry Administration, Department for Administration of Nature Conservation and Protection of Cambodia Ministry of Environment, the People Resources and Conservation Foundation, the University of East Anglia, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and World Wide Fund for Nature all lead efforts to monitor and conserve the White-shouldered Ibis and its forest home in Cambodia. Conservation efforts across the country include guarding of nests, community-based ecotourism, law enforcement to prevent hunting and the ‘Ibis Rice’ scheme, in which local people grow wildlife-friendly rice.
White-shouldered Ibis is one of the species benefiting from BirdLife’s Preventing Extinction Programme. Find out more at www.birdlife.org/extinction The species is also funded through Save Our Species.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, 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.