Newly discovered Cambodian vulture colony raises hope for species
dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday February 7, 2007


Phnom Penh- Researchers working in Cambodia hailed on
Wednesday the discovery of the only known colony of endangered
slender-billed vultures in the region as new hope for the critically
endangered species.
Tom Clements, technical adviser for the Wildlife Conservation
Society Cambodia, said a team coordinated by his group made the
discovery while working on a survey in a number of provinces. It
found a colony of up to 100 birds in remote Steung Treng province on
the Laos border.

Other species discovered in the area during the Cambodia Vulture
Conservation Project survey included the critically endangered
white-rumped vulture. A red-headed vulture and a giant ibis were
among the other species recorded.

"We discovered the nests on top of a hill where two other vulture
species were also found, one of which - the white-rumped vulture - is
also critically endangered," survey manager Song Chansocheat said in
a statement. "Amazingly, there were also a host of other globally
threatened species of birds and primates. It's a very special place."

How special was outlined by Clements. "Populations of at least
three vulture species have declined by more than 97 per cent globally
since the 1990s and are now declining at around 50 per cent per
year," he said of white-rumped, slender-billed and long-billed
vultures.

He said the cause of this dramatic decline was discovered to be
the veterinary drug diclofenac, which was killing the birds feeding
on cattle carcasses where farm animals were treated with the
anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, which as now been banned in most
countries. The toll on the birds has been particularly devastating in
India.

"In India, they are now catching the vultures to put them in
breeding centres while diclofenac is removed from the environment,"
Clements said. "The slender-billed is the rarest of the three
species. So far, they have only managed to catch 23 birds for the
breeding centres."

"The Cambodian population is estimated at around 50 to 100
individuals," he added. "The colony found is the only known breeding
site in South-East Asia and is essential for their long-term survival
here in the wild."

Clements said Cambodia was a last bastion for many species because
its turbulent recent history had delayed the rampant development that
has destroyed habitats and made rare species accessible to poachers
in neighbouring countries.

He added that diclofenac is not available in Cambodia, giving
vultures excellent chances of long-term survival in the wild there.

The survey is a government project supported by the Wildlife
Conservation Society, BirdLife, World Wildlife Fund, Disney Wildlife
Conservation Fund and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency