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Vultures in Cambodia: population, threats and conservation


Asian vultures have undergone dramatic declines of 90–99% in the Indian Subcontinent, as a consequence of poisoning by veterinary use of the drug diclofenac, and are at a high risk of extinction. Cambodia supports one of the only populations of three species (White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Slender-billed Vulture G. tenuirostris and Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus) outside of South Asia where diclofenac use is not widespread. Conservation of the Cambodian sub-populations is therefore a global priority. This study analyses the results of a long-term research programme into Cambodian vultures that was initiated in 2004. Population sizes of each species are estimated at 50–200+ individuals, ranging across an area of approximately 300 km by 250 km, including adjacent areas in Laos and Vietnam. The principal causes of vulture mortality were poisoning (73%), probably as an accidental consequence of local hunting and fishing practices, and hunting or capture for traditional medicine (15%). This represents a significant loss from such a small population of long-lived, slow breeding, species such as vultures. Cambodian vultures are severely food limited and are primarily dependent on domestic ungulate carcasses, as wild ungulate populations have been severely depleted over the past 20 years. Local people across the vulture range still follow traditional animal husbandry practices, including releasing livestock into the open deciduous dipterocarp forest areas when they are not needed for work, providing the food source. Reducing threats through limiting the use of poisons (which are also harmful for human health) and supplementary food provisioning in the short to medium-term through ‘vulture restaurants’ is critical if Cambodian vultures are to be conserved.

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