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Desperate Straits

Malaysia's Milky Storks could be gone in five years

The globally threatened Milky Stork Mycteria cinerea faces extinction in the wild in Malaysia, according to the country's BirdLife Partner, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS). Just ten birds remain, at the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Perak.

Yeap Chin Aik, MNS Scientific Officer (Ornithology), said human disturbance of nesting colonies, mangrove habitat loss and poaching had caused numbers to dwindle. The Milky Stork's entire world population is estimated at 5,550 individuals and as a result BirdLife classifies the species as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The majority of storks are in Indonesia, with 5,000 on Sumatra and 400 in west Java. A maximum of 150, perhaps considerably fewer, are shared between Malaysia and Tonle Sap lake, Cambodia.

"It would be no surprise if the Milky Stork is extinct in Malaysia in the next five years." Said Yeap Chin Aik.

The species is a predominantly a coastal resident in Indonesia and Malaysia, inhabiting mangroves and adjacent swamps. In Indonesia, tidal forests are threatened by agricultural conversion and development schemes, particularly large-scale fish farms, tidal rice cultivation, logging and related disturbance. In 1989, 40-50 birds were shipped to zoos across south-east Asia. Poisoning may be another significant, as yet unquantified, threat.

MNS, together with Zoo Negara and the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), has started a breeding programme at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park.

"We released four Milky Storks last year and are monitoring their movements. However, releasing these birds will not do any good if our mangrove forests on the west coast are not protected," said Yeap Chin Aik.

4th July 2014