7 Aug 2014

Cambodian vulture census data reveals worrying trend

Vultures are one of the most threatened groups of birds and are in decline across Asia, Africa and Europe. Photo: Jonathan C Eames
By Martin Fowlie

An annual vulture census has been carried out at seven sites across Cambodia, Recording the second lowest population estimate since records began in 2004.

Two sites, Western Siem Pang and Preah Vihear Protected Forest recorded 97% of the total.

However, almost 80% of the total number of vultures recorded - 155 birds - were counted at Western Siem Pang, BirdLife’s Forest of Hope site, confirming it as the largest and most important vulture restaurant in Cambodia and the single most important site for Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris. The remaining five sites located in eastern Cambodia recorded a maximum of only 26 birds.

“We are delighted and proud to host the largest vulture restaurant in Cambodia. There may be several explanations as to why this is so, but the high numbers of domestic cattle and buffalo in the forest at Western Siem Pang, plus very regular provisioning at the two restaurants BirdLife holds per month, means that vultures have learned to be in the vicinity as the restaurant dates approach”, said Senior Technical Advisor Jonathan Eames. “We are, however, only too aware that a single poisoning incident could wipe out almost the entire national population and we must re-double efforts to prevent such an incident from ever happening.”

“On their own, these data should not be considered evidence of a decline in the vulture population in Cambodia”, said Sum Phearun, BirdLife’s Cambodian Vulture Conservation Project Coordinator. “The data are suggestive, though, that a decline is occurring amongst vultures in eastern Cambodia and we need to understand why and respond to it. Is it probably a result of a combination of poisoning, habitat destruction and disturbance or lack of consistency in conducting restaurants and inconsistencies in data collection at these sites”, he added.

A major vulture poisoning incident occurred in Mondulkiri Protected Forest on 28 February 2014 when 13 vultures were found dead. This is the largest vulture fatality ever reported from a poisoning incident in Cambodia. Elsewhere in Mondulkiri Province in 2013 a Vietnamese company began clearing forest adjacent to a vulture colony, which led to its subsequent abandonment by the birds in 2014.

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BirdLife Cambodia Programme leads a consortium of NGOs comprising Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity, Worldwide Fund for Nature Cambodia Programme and Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Program, in implementing the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project.