A Cambodian Tradition: The Annual Vulture Census Begins Again

WCS-led census continues to monitor vital increases in beleaguered vulture populations

NEW YORK (June 3, 2011)— The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other members of the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project are launching what has become an annual event: the Cambodia vulture census.

For the past five years, WCS and other partners have recorded an increase in the country’s vulture populations, a glimmer of hope for these vital scavengers that have been decimated throughout Asia. Participants are hopeful that the good news will continue when data becomes available at the end of the month.

“The census has become a beacon of hope for conservationists working to rescue vultures from the brink,” stated Dr. Hugo Rainey, WCS technical advisor to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. “Our work in Cambodia is providing hope for the recovery of vultures across Asia.

”Vulture populations in Southeast Asia have been spared the fate suffered by the vultures in other parts of Asia, which have been decimated by the veterinary drug diclofenac. Widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle in South Asia, diclofenac is toxic to vultures, causing death through renal failure and visceral gout to birds that feed on the cattle carcasses and has led to global population declines higher than 99 percent in some vulture species.

By contrast, researchers in Cambodia last year reported record numbers of vultures in the 2010 annual vulture census, with 296 birds of three species found at multiple sites across the Northern and Eastern Plains. The finding reveals that Cambodia is the only country in Asia with an increasing  population of vultures in Asia. Specifically, the census indicates that the country’s population of white-rumped vultures is increasing; populations of red-headed and slender billed vultures were found to be stable. All three of Cambodia’s vulture species are listed as “Critically Endangered” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Vulture conservation efforts in Cambodia are the result of a number of activities promoted by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. For instance, vulture nests are protected by local community members who are paid a small fee for their support. This ensures that vulture nesting success is greatly improved and also benefits local community members who often have few other sources of income during the dry season, which coincides with the vulture breeding season. Vulture food sources are supplemented by ‘vulture restaurants,’ feeding stations that also give visitors the opportunity to see these huge birds up close.

While conservationists can point to recent successes in the conservation of Cambodia’s vultures, they also warn of the rising threat of agricultural pesticides to the birds. This practice may also present a risk to human health.

“Cambodia’s annual vulture count has become a valuable tradition, one that benefits vultures across the region and the ecological services they provide,” said Joe Walston, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program.

The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project is a partnership of different government agencies and conservation organizations led by WCS and also includes the Forestry Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the General Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection of the Ministry of Environment, BirdLife International in Indochina, Worldwide Fund for Nature, Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) and Conservation International. Support for these efforts is provided by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ACCB, WWF US, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and BirdLife International in Indochina. 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 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.

Contact:
John Delaney (1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org)
Stephen Sautner (1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)



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