Critically-Endangered White-Shouldered Ibis Population on Rise

Cambodia’s white-shouldered Ibis population is on the increase, giving high hopes that the world’s rarest bird can be saved from the clutches of extinction
White-shouldered ibis. Kiripost via Lor Kimsan/WWF-Cambodia
White-shouldered ibis. Kiripost via Lor Kimsan/WWF-Cambodia

Cambodia is home to almost 80 percent of the world population of the globe’s rarest bird, the white-shouldered Ibis, recording 792 birds out of about 1,000 in 2022, according to the WWF.

The organisation warned that the species faces a high risk of global extinction if threats continue, including hunting trapping and habitat loss.

The white-shouldered Ibis was once found in abundance across Southeast Asia. However, today the species is restricted to the dry forest landscapes of northern and eastern Cambodia, and another smaller area of the island of Borneo.

It is classed as critically endangered, the highest category of threat for a species, on the IUCN Red List.

White-shouldered ibis. Kiripost via Gordon Congdon/WWF-Cambodia
White-shouldered ibis. Kiripost via Gordon Congdon/WWF-Cambodia

In 2009, the Ministry of Environment (MoE), Forestry Administration and conservation organisations started to jointly monitor the Cambodian white-shouldered Ibis population by counting the birds in their wet season roosts.

Conducted monthly from July to October, the ibis are counted as they first enter and then leave the roost the following morning. This makes estimating both the population size and the trend possible.

From the highest count of 973 in 2013, the recorded numbers fell to 531 in 2018, a decrease of 47 percent.

In these five years, Cambodia suffered high levels of deforestation for economic land concessions. This habitat loss, combined with disturbance at nesting and roosting sites, has had a significant impact on Cambodia’ ibis population.

In 2022, for the fourth consecutive year, the census counts revealed growing numbers, which WWF said suggest that conservation measures may account for the higher total.

Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary recorded the highest figures of 377 and the Mekong Flooded Forest of 326. Smaller counts were recorded at Koh Srolay, Kulen Promtep, Lomphat, Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries.

The annual census surveys are coordinated by the Cambodian Ibis Working Group (CIWG), made up of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry Administration, Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), NatureLife Cambodia, Rising Phoenix, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Net Pheaktra, Secretary of State and Spokesperson, Ministry of Environment, said, “As the result shows an increase in the number of wildlife species including White-shouldered Ibis.

“This demonstrates the effectiveness of the implementation action plan of the Ministry of Environment and an organisation partner and the demonstrated improvement of natural resource conservation in Cambodia, people awareness raising and the changing public attitude with wildlife.”

WWF Cambodia Country Director Seng Teak said there are at least 326 white-shouldered Ibis recorded, along with 17 roosting sites in Sambo Wildlife Sanctuary.

He added that the number of white-shouldered Ibis population in the Mekong Flooded Forest has increased by 29 percent in 2022, from 252 birds in 2021.

“As a member of CIWG, WWF commits to working together with responsible authorities, NGO partners and local communities to safeguard this critically endangered bird species through support to law enforcement and community-based habitat and nest protection,” he said.

Jonathan Charles Eames, CEO of Rising Phoenix Co. Ltd, added, “At Rising Phoenix we make a great effort not only to count roosts but have taken steps to protect the largest roost site which falls outside Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Our dedicated team devotes significant time and resources to finding and monitoring white-shouldered Ibis nests and finds about 45 per annum.

Bou Vorsak, Director of NatureLife/BirdLife in Cambodia, said the latest figures indicate a “promising future” that is a step forward to preventing the species from extinction.

“We are delighted to support this species working group to develop and implement the Cambodian ibis conservation action plan to protect the critical endangered ibises from extinction,” he added.