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Land of the Giants

Western Siem Pang

Western Siem Pang in Cambodia is one of the few sites in the world that supports five Critically Endangered bird species. It is perhaps best known as the home of the world's largest population of White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davidsoni. However, its importance for another species of ibis is now becoming clear.

A recent BirdLife survey team recorded an astonishing 16 Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea over a ten day period during a rapid survey of the western sector of the site.

"At the height of the dry season one would expect a greater encounter rate as Giant Ibis along with other wildlife become concentrated at seasonal wetlands (trapeangs) in the forest and grasslands, but to record so many birds in such a short period from such a small area suggests the population at Western Siem Pang is much larger than we previously thought", said Jonathan Eames, Programme Manager for BirdLife International in Indochina.This is good news for Giant Ibis, Cambodia's national bird, which has an estimated global population of only 200 individuals. The global range of Giant Ibis has shrunk and it now only occurs in southern Laos and northern Cambodia.

Giant Ibis has declined as a result of hunting, wetland drainage for agriculture, and deforestation. The destruction of dry dipterocarp forest and the associated wetlands in Thailand and Vietnam during the 20th Century, lead to its extinction in those countries and the same processes continue in Cambodia.

It relies on seasonal pools, which in the past were created by the now much depleted megafauna. The species appears to be very sensitive to human disturbance, particularly during the dry season when birds are concentrated around available waterholes, and this is almost certainly the greatest threat, rendering much apparantly suitable habitat unusable.

"The Giant Ibis shuns people", continued Eames, "it is a magnificent bird, that with its evocative call, will only be saved from global extinction when more people recognise that the economic values of the dry dipterocarp forests of Cambodia extend beyond cassava plantations and poorly conceived biofuel projects."

4th July 2014