Lonely Planet Writer

Good news for Cambodia's critically endangered giant ibis population as new nests discovered

They are among the rarest birds in the world – Cambodia’s magnificent giant ibis, of whom only perhaps 250 still survive. The giant ibis has long been on the critically endangered list. However, conservation efforts do seem to be working with the announcement that no fewer than nineteen nests have been discovered this breeding season.

Rare giant ibises in Cambodia
Giant ibis conservation methods pay off in Cambodia as new nesting sites discovered. Image by: WCS Cambodia

The graceful wading bird is found in just a small geographic area, almost exclusively in Cambodia with only a few birds still surviving in Laos. And that’s why the discovery of the nests is so important to their future with plans now to protect the nests from both human disturbance and other threats.

A pair of rare ibises in a tree in Cambodia in 2007
A pair of giant ibises perched in a tree in Tmatboey, Cambodia in 2007. Image by: Jerry Redfern/LightRocket via Getty Images

Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society told Lonely Planet: “There are less than 250 giant ibis remaining in the world, so 19 nests is a pretty large proportion of the giant ibis nests that will be built this year. The fact that this means we can protect a significant proportion of the global population this year is important. Giant ibis used to occur throughout much of mainland Southeast Asia. As recently as the 1960s, they bred not far from Phnom Penh. They are now restricted to the most remote parts of Cambodia, where forest clearance and hunting continues to be an issue, so they’re really very endangered.”

Giant Ibis numbers recover slightly in Cambodia
Giant ibis chick in a tree. Image by: WCS Cambodia

The giant ibis, which is Cambodia’s national bird, is generally found in marshes, swamps, lakes and rivers. The nineteen nests were found in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary and Cchep Wildlife Sanctuary, two popular locations for travellers to the country.

Giant ibises nesting
A pair of giant ibises nesting in a tree in Tmatboey. Image by: WCS Cambodia

The birds generally breed between June and September but the eggs are very vulnerable to small carnivorous predators. To help try and ensure they survive, local people are given ‘direct conservation payments’ for discovering nests, and receive a bonus if nestlings successfully fledge. The search for new nests is not finished for the year and the conservation team are hopeful they could find more in the weeks to come.