Kulen, Preah Vihear ( July 10, 2017) For the first time in five years, a nest of the Endangered white-winged duck has been discovered in the Northern Plains of Cambodia. People from the local community discovered the nest and reported it to conservationists from the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The nest, which contained seven eggs, was located inside a Koki tree hollow in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary (KPWS) near Kulen District, Preah Vihear Province.

The discovery was part of an innovative program developed by WCS, in conjunction with MoE, in which local people are compensated to protect and to monitor endangered birds instead of harvest them.

The white-winged duck (Asarcornis scutulata) is categorized on IUCN’s Red List as Endangered. The species’ global population is in decline due to habitat loss, disturbance along key stretches of riverine habitat and illegal poaching, and is estimated to be between 250 – 1,000 individuals. Little is currently known about the numbers present in Cambodia.

“We saw a white-winged duck on the tree while walking to the rice field,” said Mr. In Long, 36, who found the nest.  “We reported it to the WCS team because we know it is endangered bird. They came to check the nest and hired three of us to guard it.”

“We are so happy to be nest protectors and will work hard to protect this nest from any human disturbance, eggs collection or other small carnivores. We are happy to fulfill this role and trying our best to achieve the goal,” he added.

The Northern Plains landscape in Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia is home to many Endangered or Critically Endangered bird species. Those include the giant ibis, white-shouldered ibis, three species of vulture, the white-winged duck, and others.

WCS is working in collaboration with the MoE to conserve the Northern Plains’ forests and wildlife through a variety of conservation interventions. The Bird Nest Protection Programme is a payments scheme designed to combat the threat of egg and chick collection. Under the scheme, local people living in two protected areas in the Northern Plains of Cambodia are offered conditional payments if they successfully locate, monitor and protect nests until fledging. From 2002 until 2016, 3,813 nests and 6,806 fledglings were safeguarded over an area of greater than 4,000 km². Based on previous studies of this scheme, it is believed that approximately 3700 globally threatened birds have fledged as a direct result of this programme, at an approximate cost of $134 each.

“After receiving the information, our team went to observe the nest and were excited to see the mother in a big tree and that she has laid seven eggs already,” said Rours Vann, Research Team Leader in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary.

“The white-winged duck is Endangered, so more protection is needed to conserve the species from extinction. Nest and habitat protection are important to safeguard their lives and breeding. To prevent any disturbance and harm, we have hired the villagers to guard it. Our team will monitor the nest regularly as well,” he added.

This work is supported by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, the Akron Zoological Park, Sam Veasna Centre, and the European Union.