Ibis Still Endangered Despite Population Increase, Groups Say

A recent census of White-shouldered Ibis in Cambodia, one of the rarest birds in the world, shows their numbers have increased, but conservationists are not convinced that the endangered species will ever completely recover due to habitat destruction, wildlife experts said.

Completed earlier this month, the White-shouldered Ibis census, which was conducted by BirdLife International in Indochina, Wildlife International, the Ministry of En­vironment, and others, found there are 543 of the birds in north and east Cambodia. During the same period last year, 428 birds were found, according to a joint statement re­leased Thursday.

Despite the increase in birds counted, researchers urged caution.

Sum Phearun, an Ibis researcher for BirdLife International, said Fri­day that it was possible the uptick in numbers was due to better reporting, but the population will eventually end up in decline as land concessions and deforestation encroach on the bird’s territory.

“The government has provided a lot of [economic land] concessions to private companies and the private sector,” Mr Phearun said. “In the fu­ture, we’re worried that all the habitat will be converted.”

As a result of habitat loss, White-shouldered Ibis are already ex­tinct from their former ranges in Thai­land, Burma, Vietnam, Malay­sia and China.

“Cambodia now supports 95 percent of the global population of this species and is therefore a vital last stronghold,” the organizations said.

“Loss of its remaining habitat in Cambodia is now the biggest single threat to White-shouldered Ibis,” they added.

“[U]p to 85 percent of these birds are at risk of losing their habitat from change in land use in the near future.”

Dany Chheang, director of habitat management at the nature-based tourism office in the Ministry of Ag­riculture, said there were many possible reasons for the Ibis’ endangered status besides deforestation, such as disease, hunting by villagers, or exposure to pesticides.

“Sometimes there’s a kind of land conversion, but besides that, some birds can be affected by disease,” he said.

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