30 Nov 2016

A Phnom-enal award for our team in Cambodia

White-shouldered Ibis © Jonathan C. Eames
White-shouldered Ibis © Jonathan C. Eames
By Irene Lorenzo

BirdLife’s Cambodia Programme, which works to save several Critically Endangered species from extinction, has received a prestigious award from the biodiverse country’s government.

Five Critically Endangered bird species protected. Ten projects supporting vital bird habitats.  Countless new protected areas declared. In thirteen years, BirdLife’s Cambodia Programme has managed to revitalize the natural landscape of this biodiverse South-East Asian country by leaps and bounds. Unsurprisingly, the Cambodian government is now awarding them a prestigious medal in recognition to their years of dedication.

The Cambodia Programme was started over a decade ago by a small group of conservationists seeking to promote habitat and species conservation by working with governments and other organizations. Today it’s lead by a team of fifty local people who work at the forefront of nature conservation in the country.

Species protection is one of the main drivers of their work, with five Critically Endangered bird species benefitting from their projects: Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea, White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni, White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris and Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus.

The locals of Western Siem Pang share their resources with their unique wildlife - conserving nature benefits all © Shaun Hurrell

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Habitat protection is the other main focus of the Programme, with about 10 projects supporting six Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in Cambodia. Earlier this year, the Cambodia Programme was a key player in the creation of the new transnational Prey Siem Pang Lech Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the above-named Critically Endangered bird species – including 50% of the global population of White-shouldered Ibis and 10% of the world’s Giant Ibis. Two other important wetlands for birds in the Lower Mekong, identified by BirdLife as IBAs, were officially declared protected areas thanks to the programme.

Only last year, the extraordinary waterbird colony of Prek Toal was recognized as Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Prek Toal is the largest waterbird colony in South-East Asia, but was threatened as a result of decades of egg and chick collecting. BirdLife with a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), worked with Ministry of Environment to secure Ramsar nomination for Prek Toal.  By involving egg collectors and employing them as nest guardians, the WCS Programme found a solution that worked for both birds and people. The protection continues to this day and the site now supports more than 50,000 breeding waterbirds of at least ten globally threatened species, including Southeast Asia’s only breeding Spot-billed Pelicans Pelecanus philippensis, nearly half of the world’s Greater Adjutants Leptoptilos dubius and thousands of storks and darters.

BirdLife's Cambodia Programme is working with locals to ensure both people and wildlife benefit from conserving resources © Jonathan C. Eames

The Programme team goes beyond just declaring protected areas by also helping the government develop management plans for them. This is how they ensure these areas are managed properly. Currently they support the management of four protected areas: Siem Pang Kang Lech Wildlife Sanctuary, Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary, Boeung Prek Lapouv Protected Landscape and Anlung Pring Protected Landscape.

The team is ecstatic to receive the Sahametrei medal – a prestigious award given by the Cambodian government to organizations who contribute their energy and spirit to Cambodia’s social interest. Nominated by the Ministry of Environment, the medal and a certificate signed by the Prime Minister was awarded in a ceremony in Phnom Pehn this week. It’s an award that reflects the team’s tireless work, and gives them renewed energy to continue conserving the country’s stunning natural resources.