Vultures in Cambodia are under grave threat of extinction due to habitat loss, food shortages and the use of deadly poisons by villagers.
According to a Wildlife Conservation Society statement issued yesterday to mark International Vulture Awareness Day, Cambodian vultures have seen a 50 percent decrease in their population since the late 2000s.
“Only 121 of the birds were recorded in this year’s national census, the lowest number on record since 2003,” WCS said. “Recent reviews indicate that poisoning is the major threat to the vulture population in Cambodia.”
Bou Vorsak, programme manager with BirdLife, said that the vultures were usually poisoned in two ways.
Either villagers leave meat laced with poison to hunt them, or encroaching cattle that has been killed by poison and left to rot is being eaten by the birds and is killing them, he said.
Mr Vorsak added that Cambodia’s vultures now only remained in Chhep and Siem Pang Kang Lech Wildlife Sanctuaries in Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces.
Cambodia has three vulture species, including the red-headed, slender billed and white-rumped vulture, each listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as critically endangered.
“Poisoning is probably the biggest threat to Cambodia’s vultures,” said Simon Mahood, WCS’s senior technical adviser.
According to WCS, at least 30 vultures were killed over the past five years in Cambodia due to widespread indiscriminate use of poisons by villagers.
In addition, they are threatened by habitat loss and food shortages caused by low numbers of wild ungulates and domestic cattle.
Mr Mahood said raising awareness among villagers is the first line of defence against the decline in numbers due to poisoning.
He added that a WCS conservation programme being run in collaboration with the Environment Ministry is also attempting to tackle the problem by feeding the birds clean meat at “vulture restaurants” set up by WCS.