The government and conservationists are calling for a united effort to protect the river tern bird species whose numbers are dropping rapidly.
Yin Kim Sean, secretary of state at the Environment Ministry, spoke yesterday after attending an action plan workshop for the bird, whose scientific name is Sterna aurantia.
He said 50 to 60 river terns remained in Cambodia, an estimated 60 percent fall on the figure ten years ago.
“The Ministry of Environment has broadcasted, educated and explained to the community about the importance of the river terns and asked them to join in to protect these birds,” Mr Kim Sean said.
He said the ministry would try to educate people at all levels to love and protect the birds, because river terns were important for attracting tourists to the kingdom, along the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers and to other areas where the bird lives.
“If we lose all the river terns, we will lose tourists as well,” said Mr Kim Sean. “We are concerned about losing the river tern and we have come here to find more ways to protect them.”
Andrea Claassen, a consultant conservation biologist, said yesterday that the bird’s low reproductive success was thought to be a major factor leading to the decline in the Mekong basin population.
“Breeding success is threatened by human disturbance and direct persecution due to people harvesting eggs and chicks for personal consumption,” Ms Claassen said.
She said the other factors affecting breeding success include predation of nests and chicks by animals such as dogs, rats, and crows, trampling of nests by free-ranging water buffalo and cattle, and flooding of nests due to rain and hydropower dam releases.
Ms Claassen said the loss of the bird would be sad for Cambodian people because it was very beautiful and a symbol of the river system in Cambodia.
The river tern has probably disappeared from Thailand and Vietnam. The closest population to Cambodia is in Myanmar, where there are about 100 river terns.