The critically endangered Bengal florican’s population is down to just 104 in Cambodia after its numbers plummeted by half over six years, researchers said.
The large grassland bird, particularly vulnerable because it cannot perch on trees and lays its eggs on the ground, is now confined to just four areas around the country, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and Environment Ministry research, released on Monday.
Its Cambodian population dropped from 216 in 2012 to 104 in 2018, and its habitat areas from 10 to four in the same period, the study said.
The birds live mostly around the wetlands of Tonle Sap Lake, especially in protected areas in Kompong Thom province’s Stong district and Siem Reap province’s Chi Kreng district, it said.
“They always sleep, hide and walk on the ground,” said Hong Chamnan, deputy director of the Environment Ministry’s department of freshwater wetlands conservation. “So they are vulnerable to dogs, snakes and other animals that can catch them as prey or take their eggs and chicks.”
The birds also only breed once a year and have few offspring, Chamnan added. It was nevertheless the encroachment of human activities on their habitat that was the major factor in their decline, he said.
Despite the falling numbers, the protection of the species in Cambodia was “a big success,” Chamnan said.
More than 31,000 hectares around Tonle Sap had been marked as a conservation area for the birds — though their migration every year upon the lake waters’ rise complicated efforts to protect them, he said.
The bird’s worldwide population has been estimated at fewer than 1,000, with most living in India, Nepal and Cambodia.
Sum Phearun, an adviser at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said despite the efforts being made by various parties, it was hard to be optimistic about the bird’s resurgence in most parts of the country.
“We will all try our best, and I think the areas that we have worked on … can offer some hope,” Phearun said.
“Protecting the naturally flooding grass plains around the Tonle Sap is the key action needed to ensure the restoration and long-term survival of this rare bird.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)