News recently, via BirdLife International, that a higher count than anticipated (161 ) of White-shouldered Ibis at Western Siem Pang, Cambodia had been realised was most encouraging. Contrasted against this , another source of information reported that studies since the 1980's of Kenya's wildlife showed it to have reduced by up to 40%. A far less reassuring comment that global conservation was progressing in a consistent fashion. In the latter report a particular comment caught my eye, which I personally believe is critical to the success of many of the initiatives now being undertaken. It was acknowledged that , where there was local community involvement, the declines and degradation of habitat had been significantly less. Having seen such at work, particularly in West Africa and Cambodia, I would very much agree with the conclusion.
In Cambodia the Wildlife Conservation Society, an American organization founded in 1895 and currently involved in over 500 conservation projects in 60 countries ( see http://www.wcs.org/ ) , has been involved in various initiatives aimed at improving the populations of ibis, stork and vulture species and several others . It has provided help and guidance to the Sam Veasnu Centre ( SVC ) which, in turn, has links with various community based schemes in the country similar to those alluded to above.
In 2008 , as part of an Oriental Bird Club tour, I had the privilege to visit many of the key sites in Cambodia and see several species that are " on the brink" , including White-shouldered Ibis. The SVC provided a guide (see below ) in addition to the services of BirdTour Asia.
Sophoan Sanh spoke good English, proved to be an experienced birder, was well travelled within her own country and others nearby and extremely knowledgeable about Cambodian culture. Supporting her was a group of drivers and ladies who did the cooking whilst we were in some of the more remote places.
That year only 130 people visited the Tmatboey community based project , mostly within January and February when weather conditions are at their best. This particular community protects the Giant Ibis and White-shoulderd Ibis within the adjacent dipterocarp forest areas besides overseeing the provision and cleaning of the accomodation facilities which have been built. Income is fed back to the community from such visits and it's pleasing to report that 2008 met its financial targets and the objectives of the business plan ( you can't escape business plans nowadays , not even deep in the forest!!! ). A year round presence , not just aimed at showing visitors birds, but ensuring hunting is controlled, watching for forest fires and ensuring habitat is maintained and census work undertaken, is all a part of the service provided.
Simple, straightforward, but effective and a lifeline for both the birds and the community that itself would have had to depend on natural resources within the 30 years of civil strife that ravaged the country. Now, with economic prosperity improving, conservation is part of the fabric of opportunity that is benefitting both isolated communities and the wildlife in their adjacent environments.
In 2009 the SVC ( see http://www.samveasnu.org/ ) organized two SVC Super Tours, birding trips which visited 11 sites in 14 days!! A wide selection of birds was seen at mouth watering sites such as that shown here.
These are to be repeated in 2010 ( in January and February ) besides there being another Oriental Bird Club Tour.
There are other areas under review in Cambodia. Kae seima, Mondulkiri, in Eastern Cambodia sounds enticing to say the least. Until relatively recently this area only had one road linking it to the country's infrastructure, is said to have the most diverse range of habitats in Cambodia, has elephants, eight species of cat , including tiger, and a wide variety of bird species. It's certainly the one I hope to visit at some future point.
So, to everyone who has not yet visited SE Asia, give it a try , sign up for a real adventure and see sites and birds you'll never forget. It is truly fantastic, utterly unspoiled and the food is unbelievable! Contact the SVC and they'll do the rest. Believe me whether it's exploring the backwaters of the Sonle Tap by small boat, camping deep in the forest near to a trapeang that attracts White-winged Duck or venturing out on the vast Mekong River to see the newly described wagtail that lives out its existent on the small islands in the middle, you'll come back with memories that I suspect have no match with any others previously. At the same time you'll be chanelling the much required income directly into front line bird conservation schemes that deserve our support as they're linked to world threatened species! Do it!!!