First encounter of Critically Endangered Giant Ibis on the Mekong River

August 20, 2013

Siambouk District, Steung Treng Province – In the middle of July 2013, WWF researchers reported that a Giant Ibis nest was found a few kilometres inland from the Mekong River, by a local villager, thus making this the first documented nest site for this species within the Mekong Flooded Forest – a stunning and important biodiversity area situated between Kratie and Stung Treng towns, in northeast Cambodia.

Restricted to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) was listed on the IUCN Red list in 1994 as critically endangered. Its global population numbers approximately 345 individuals (Information from IUCN), with about 90 per cent in Cambodia. Globally numbers are extremely small and undergoing rapid decline.

Mr Sok Ko, Forestry Administration Official and Bird Nest Project Officer with WWF-Cambodia, said that after getting the report from a 36 year old local farmer, his bird nest team immediately went to the nest in O Chralang Village, O Marah Commune and saw an adult Giant Ibis sitting on the nest with two eggs. The team made an agreement with the farmer Mr Krech Phoeun, and another villager to protect the nest from disturbance until any potential chicks hatch and leave the nest. According to Mr Sok Ko, the bird’s breeding season is from June to November.

Giant Ibis incubating her eggs in the nest in Mekong Flooded Forest, Stung Streng Province. Photo:

© FA, WWF-Cambodia

“The discovery of the Giant Ibis nest on the Mekong is extremely significant because it provides hope for the species survival,” he said.

With funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and GEF-funded Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), WWF has also supported villagers along the Mekong River to protect the nests of three other critically endangered birds: the White-shouldered Ibis, Red-headed Vulture and White Rumped Vulture, as well as important Cambodian populations of River Terns and Lesser Adjutants.

The Giant Ibis was listed as an Endangered Species in Cambodia under Prakas n. 020 dated 25 January 2007, of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and is protected by Cambodia’s law. In 2005, the Giant Ibis was designated as Cambodia’s national bird by Royal Degree.

The discovery of the Giant Ibis, along with the presence of the third largest population of White- shouldered Ibis in Cambodia and probably the world; Vultures, Lesser Adjutant, and River Tern clearly indicate that this section of the Mekong is globally important for the conservation of many bird species that have virtually disappeared from the rest of Southeast Asia.

“Giant Ibises don’t like to be disturbed and are very shy – they tend to live far from human settlements,” said Mr Gerry Ryan, WWF’s Research Technical Advisor. “The presence of Cambodia’s national bird is further proof that efforts in managing and conserving the area and its biodiversity are worthwhile and having an effect.” 

However, the area is under increasing pressure from human activities. This nest is on land designated for an Economic Land Concession, and a proposed dam at Sambor could result in inundation of habitat critical for the Giant Ibis and many other species. Other threats to the area and its biodiversity include illegal clearing and logging, hunting for food and trade, and destructive illegal mining activities both on the mainland and on islands in the Mekong.

The Royal Government of Cambodia’s official designation of the Mekong Flooded Forest in April 2013 as a management and conservation site for biodiversity and fisheries resources provided a legal framework to address these threats and boost the efforts of management and conservation of globally significant animals and habitats for long term benefits.

“Without local community’s understanding about the importance of conservation and their participation, the bird nest would have been destroyed and the bird would have been poached,” Mr Sok Ko said. “They are willing to work with the project on protecting bird nests, which also offers them the opportunity to earn extra income,” he added.

The GEF has supported Cambodia in the protection of the giant ibis not only through CEPF but also through CALM, a successful GEF project on establishing conservation Areas Landscape Management in the northern plains of Cambodia

For further information:

Giant Ibis walking in a trapaing in Mondulkiri Protected Forest. Photo: © FA, WWF-Cambodia