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Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 11052482

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 11052482) - Giant Ibis - Awarded $20,000 on July 08, 2011

Local Communities and Conservation of Critically Endangered Ibis Species:

Case Study from Western Siem Pang (WSP), Cambodia

Compiled by Thomas Kuenzel and Bou Vorsak

BirdLife International Cambodia Programme


Two of the most charismatic large wetland birds, the mysterious Giant Ibis, Thaumatibis gigantea, and the beautiful White-shouldered Ibis, Pseudibis davisoni, suffered tremendous losses in all over their distribution range in Asia during the last 80 years. The main reason for the decline of these large water bird species is habitat destruction.


Based on Cambodia’s history during the last 80 years and the countrys’ still low population density Cambodia’s deciduous dipterocarp forests  did not suffer the same fate as in neighbouring countries. Cambodia still has large tracts of deciduous dipterocarp forests in its northern and eastern provinces and these forests are the last home of viable populations of the Giant Ibis and the White-shouldered Ibis.


Cambodian conservationists recently discovered that substantial numbers of the two Ibis species survived in Cambodia’s Western Siem Pang Deciduous Dipterocarp Forest (WSP DDF). Those Cambodian conservationists with support from BirdLife International’s Cambodia Programme (BirdLife) alerted the Cambodian Government about that very important finding and received support for implementing conservation activities in cooperation with the Forestry Administration and local communities living around the site.

BirdLife immediately then started community consultations and informing the local people about the national and international importance of the White-shouldered Ibis and Giant Ibis populations living in their area and forging conservation alliances with those communities with the aim to maintain sustainably these Ibis populations


The most encouraging discovery in this context was that the Ibis are utilizing especially during the dry season, the trapeangs ,wetlands within an otherwise very dry environment, which are maintained by domestic cattle and buffalo. The Ibis need such open wet land habitats for foraging and the domestic buffalo need the trapeangs for wallowing – a rare constellation were farmers through their livestock keeping livelihood activities maintain a habitat which supports critically endangered wildlife. This is where conservationists from BirdLife saw the realistic chance to sustainably maintain the populations of Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis through community-based conservation programmes.


BirdLife successfully encouraged local communities in conserving the Critically Endangered Ibis species through education and awareness raising (i.e. regarding to Environmental Laws and – very important in this context – the link between farmers livelihood activities and the Ibis foraging grounds), and through small additional income from nest protection schemes and participation of farmers in Ibis counting activities.


During the last two years with funding support from Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, BirdLife very successfully was able to encourage more and more local farmers to participate in the effort to count and protect White-shouldered Ibis at their night roosts during the rainy seasons. In 2012 out of a total of 18 counting stations (night roosts) in WSP the White-shouldered Ibis at 15 of those roosts were counted and protected by people from local communities after being trained by BirdLife staff. The local people’s counting/conservation capacity has been improved step by step during the last four years resulting in an increase of the numbers of the Ibis seen.

The development of our knowledge about the size of the population of the White-shouldered Ibis in WSP depends mainly on those roost counts and the participation of the local communities in conservation measures. That this community-based conservation approach has been very successful is best demonstrated by the development of the census data for the last four years in WSP as follows:


The highest number of White-shouldered Ibis counted at all night roosts in WSP in 2009 resulted in 147 White-shouldered Ibis, but in 2012 in 346 White-shouldered Ibis. This corresponds to an increase of 43 % of the known White-shouldered Ibis population existing in WSP which is due to conservation effort (nest protection, anti-hunting and anti-poisoning measures in many communities) of BirdLife in collaboration with communities and due to very much improved night roost counting procedure based on a continuously increased number of counting teams recruited from the local communities and appropriate awareness rising and training sessions by BirdLife among them.


Parallel to the involvement of farmers in the night roost counting procedure of White-shouldered Ibis and in nest protection schemes, Under the Giant Ibis conservation project funding by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, BirdLife encouraged communities to establish Local Conservation Groups (LCG) and giving them the task to work for the sustainable maintenance of the trapeangs for their further use by farmer’s livestock and the Ibis and other wildlife.


Such LCG were established in seven target villages and trained by BirdLife, and at least 90 people from seven target villages currently are working as volunteers for those Local Conservation Group towards a co-management of the crucial foraging habitat of Ibises, the trapeangs. The LCGs will weekly monitor the change in and around the trapeangs –  targeting the maintenance of these ecosystems as foraging habitat for the two Ibis species as well as wallowing and grazing ground for domestic buffalo.




Logging is still the main challenge in WSP. It is one major income for the communities in WSP and it is hard to change the attitude of the people towards logging. They even cross the border to get luxury tree species like “Black Wood” from Laos. Some people don’t want to disturb birds and other wildlife but their logging activities provide strong negative impact on the nesting habitat of the Ibis.


Much more difficult than to maintain the trapeangs is to protect larger trees from being cut down. Beside the availability of trapeangs as foraging ground during the dry season the further existence of the two Ibis species depends also on forest with trees large enough to be of use as nesting trees.


WSP when lacking one of the two aspects - 1) trapeangs as feeding ground, and 2) surrounding forest with large trees as breeding sites - will fail to support the two Ibis populations!!! – and will also fail to support the populations of the three Critically Endangered vulture species for which the still existing WSP DDF is the last refuge worldwide.


This situation is especially complicated because the protection of the forest would need much higher budgets than presently available, and it would need a turn-around in terms of the Government policy regarding land concessions. The presently existing land concessions issued to two Cambodian companies cover ca 60% of the whole WSP PPF area. These concessions are threatening 60% of the forest with total destruction which would mean the sure extinction of at least five critically endangered bird species in WSP – the two Ibis and the three Vulture species.


Finding a way to avoid the looming clear cut of the forest in WSP in the concession areas will remain the most pressing tasks. To be successful with this task is only possible with an appropriate effort of the Government and here first of all of the Prime Minister who would have the power to cancel these concessions.


To maintain the trapeangs and to protect the forest against illegal logging activities could be done in co-management operations where communities are working together with Forestry Administration and BirdLife.


BirdLife’s present effort to bring to the ground an effective working co-management programme with the local communities would need at least another four years of training and support before the established LCGs can work independently towards the sustainable maintenance of the DDF with its trapeangs.


Project 11052482 location - Cambodia, Asia