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Dramatic recovery of Southeast Asia’s waterbirds in Cambodia
WCS efforts to protected the Prek Toal Ramsar Site have resulted in a dramatic recovery of waterbirds. Today this wetland is now the largest waterbird colony in Southeast Asia. Over 3,000 Spot-billed Pelican, 5,000 Painted Stork, 1,200 Lesser and Great Adjutants (50% of the global population), 14,000 Oriental Darters and at least 30,000 Asian Openbills share the immense Tonle Sap lake with local people who now protect rather than raid their nests.
Following the death of Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge in 1998 intrepid WCS conservationists completed the first wildlife surveys in over 50 years. In Tonle Sap they discovered the vestiges of a once great waterbird colony. Massive unregulated collection of eggs and chicks had reduced populations of species such as Oriental Darter to just a few hundred breeding pairs. At the same time, cutting and burning threatened the flooded forest and the waterbirds primary nest sites. Working with the Ministry of Environment, WCS used the offer of regular wages to convert the egg and chick collectors into nest guardians. Stationed on a network of tree-top platforms community members vigilantly protected nests throughout the breeding season. The birds responded immediately, rapidly increasing in number. From a few hundred pairs the Darter population has grown to over 14,000 individuals. This thriving waterbird colony is now an important tourist destination bringing visitors from around the world, and most importantly direct economic benefits to the communities who protect the birds and their nesting trees. Conservation of the flooded forest has maintained critical habitat for the immense fish population that is vital to the wellbeing of local families who live in floating villages, and a key part of the food chain for the growing waterbird colony, otters, crocodiles and other wildlife.
Ongoing surveys show remarkable increases in waterbird numbers over the last decade. Oriental Darters increased from 200 to 7,000 pairs; Asian Openbill from 1,000 to 15,000 pairs; and the Great Adjutant Stork population has grown from a mere 30 to over 200 pairs.
Protection of the flooded forest on the Tonle Sap lake by community rangers, has saved a vital and highly productive foraging habitat for fish that both drive the local economy and are an essential food source for the Lake’s waterbirds and other wildlife.
WCS has created a strong government-led effort that employs forty community rangers to protect the waterbirds and flooded forest habitat throughout the year.
Ecotourism has become an important new source of income for local people. However, the lakes vast fishery still provides the most important benefit to local communities, and to fishing families on the Mekong river where many fish migrate during low water periods.
Prek Toal, Cambodia.