Birding in Tmatboey, Cambodia

Birding in Tmatboey, Cambodia Photo
WCS has trained local guides to manage ecotourism activities, including birdwatching for the giant or white-shouldered ibis at Tmatboey.
©H Rainey

The Northern Plains of Cambodia are perhaps best known for the ancient temples of Angkor, but the region also harbors the largest remaining intact block of a unique landscape that once covered much of Indochina. And in the open deciduous forests, grasslands, and seasonal wetlands lives a community of large mammals and wetland birds found nowhere else in the world. The area has been described as the Asian equivalent of the vast African savannas. Two species of Earth’s rarest birds nest near the isolated village of Tmatboey--the giant ibis and its cousin the white-shouldered ibis. Until recently, three decades of violent conflict and limited access to this remote area kept naturalists and birdwatchers away, but now birders travel across the world for a chance to see the ibises and other majestic birds.


Illegal hunting, local and international wild bird trade, new roads, and expanding agriculture for commercial and subsistence farming threaten what is left of this unique ecosystem and its increasingly rare wildlife. In addition to waterbirds, the Northern Plains host crucial remnant populations of white-rumped, red-necked, and slender-billed vultures. Elsewhere in Asia, dicloflenac poisoning has nearly wiped out many vulture species. But here, dicloflenac (a veterinary drug used on cattle that is toxic to birds of prey) has not been used. Tourism, however, brings other challenges. If not properly managed, an influx of tourists can marginalize local communities and disturb the bird populations instead of empower local peoples and protect habitat. The remoteness of certain areas can present security and logistical issues. 


  • Conserve some of Southeast Asia’s rarest species by directly linking tourism revenue from bird-watching to conservation of these populations
  •  Increase the capacity of the community to manage local tourism and maximize the revenues received at Tmatboey

What WCS is Doing

 In the early 2000s, WCS conservationists became known within the global bird-watching community as the best source of information on Cambodian birds and sites. Giant ibis and white-shouldered ibis were discovered nesting near the village of Tmatboey in 2001. Three years later, WCS launched an ecotourism project for Cambodian and foreign visitors to see these species and other rare birds.

Working with the Tmatboey community and the Cambodian government, WCS drew up land-use guidelines. In return for assistance with developing tourism, local villagers signed “no-hunting” agreements. WCS helped the community secure funding for the construction of a community guesthouse, which employs villagers as managers, cooks, guides, and other staff. Our conservationists trained local guides to identify many bird species and to manage the Tmatboey ecotourism guesthouse. Tourists who see a giant or a white-shouldered ibis agree to donate $30 to a fund that is used to improve living conditions within the village.

Key Bird Species of Tmatboey:

Giant ibis—white-shouldered ibis (5 nesting pairs)—greater adjutant stork—lesser adjutant stork—sarus crane—green peafowl—black-necked stork—woolly-necked stork—great spotted eagle—gray-headed fish eagle—white-rumped falcon—pale-capped pigeon—Manchurian reed warbler—Asian golden weaver—Alexandrine parakeet—rufous-winged buzzard

From the Newsroom

Wild Haven of CambodiaApril 9, 2012

Birdwatchers from across Asia and beyond flock to Cambodia for a glimpse of two of the world's rarest birds: the giant ibis and its cousin the white-shouldered ibis. The birds’ nesting grounds sit at the outskirts of Tmatboey, a rural village where WCS has worked with the community to develop an eco-tourism project.

Rare Vulture Returns to Cambodian SkiesMarch 18, 2009

After nearly dying from eating a poisoned animal carcass, a critically endangered white-rumped vulture was nursed back to health by wildlife veterinarians and conservationists from WCS and Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity.

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