Successes in the field: The Bird’s Nest Protection Programme pays dividends

04 December 2013 | News story

SOS grantee Simon Mahood reports from the field as he works to protect some of Cambodia’s most threatened bird species. In a recent update Simon explained “We’re half way through the Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) 2013 breeding season in the northern plains of Cambodia and this season the total number of Giant Ibis nests protected since 2003 reached 250!  

Considering that the global population of this species is estimated at only 230 mature individuals this is extremely significant. Over ten years we have protected the equivalent of the entire breeding population of the species. By the end of this season the total number of Giant Ibis chicks fledged from nests protected by community nest guardians will surpass 400.

Largely restricted to northern Cambodia, the Giant Ibis has been embraced by the Cambodian people and declared their national bird. However, Giant Ibis is highly sensitive to human disturbance and has been rapidly declining as a result of hunting and deforestation. In response the project team created the Birds’ Nest Protection Programme, in which former poachers are employed as guardians to protect threatened nesting birds.

Working for ten years with Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Administration this process is now well-established explains Simon who works for IUCN Member Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Cambodia. Guardians camp a reasonable distance from nest trees and carry out patrols twice daily. People encountered in the surrounding area are asked to move away, with any illegal activity reported to the law enforcement team. If the chicks fledge successfully the nest guardians receive double their daily payment as a bonus.

The Birds’ Nest Protection Programme is partially supported by donations from visiting birdwatchers. For example at Tmatboey village, the ecotourism committee appreciates the importance of having a healthy Giant Ibis population in order to attract tourists, so they use a portion of the tourism revenue to pay for bird nest protection.

Humans are not the only hunting threat to Giant Ibis, however. Small carnivores such as Common Palm Civet predate chicks and eggs. Consequently nest guardians attach baffles - wide sheets of plastic wrapped around tree trunks - to prevent small carnivores from climbing up to the nest. This simple technology has the desired effect, Giant Ibis nests with baffles and nest guardians have an 87% success rate!

Commenting on the significance of the success, Simon reports that the species which benefit from the Birds’ Nest Protection Programme are some of the rarest bird species in the world. Essentially, the project has shown that nest protection increases populations of threatened species, and makes a tangible contribution to the incomes of villagers involved. “Protecting 250 Giant Ibis nests is a nice milestone to reach, but we won’t stop there!”

Indeed, this project works to protect 10 species of Cambodian birds and the team has plenty of work and challenges ahead, so these recent successes are invaluable motivators that conservation work can pay off. Next up, the Masked Finfoot (Heliopais personatus).