Preah Vihear (November 1, 2017) –Conservationists from Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment (MoE), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), and local communities have discovered 121 lesser adjutant nests to date in Kulen Promtep and Chhep Wildlife Sanctuaries in the Northern Plains of Cambodia during the 2017 breeding season. WCS has hired 10 local community teams, under the bird nest protection program to locate, monitor and protect nests until fledging. These conditional payments ensure that the globally threatened nests are protected from poaching, egg collection and disturbance.

The lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) is a large stork reaching 130 centimeters (51 inches) in height with a wingspan exceeding two meters. Despite a global upper population estimate of 10,000 mature individuals, these birds are experiencing rapid population declines, and their range is undergoing widespread contraction. As a result, the lesser adjutant is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Our research teams have found 121 lesser adjutant nests since early October in the Northern Plains,” said Rours Vann, Wildlife Research Team Leader for WCS and MoE in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. “Of those, 65 are located in Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary, and 56 are in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, We continue searching for new nests and are now working closely with local community teams and rangers to protect the nests and breeding areas.”

Last year, 149 total nests were found. Since it is just the beginning of the breeding period, the scientists feel that chances are good that this year’s total will increase. The scientists attribute the stability in the number of nests in the Northern Plains over the past five years to nest and habitat protection.

Lesser adjutants nest colonially, preferring the tallest trees in a habitat consisting of a patchwork of deciduous dipterocarpus, semi-evergreen and evergreen forests. The Northern Plains boasts one of the best remaining examples of this highly threatened mosaic habitat.

“Lesser adjutant is a globally vulnerable species,” said Song Chansocheat, Deputy Director of Environment in Preah Vihear Province.   “Protecting their nesting sites is very important to ensure the survival of this rare species in the country. The Northern Plains in Preah Vihear Province is the lesser adjutant’s second largest stronghold in the country after Prek Toal Ramsar Site.”

Through the nest protection program, local communities who used to collect eggs for consumption have now become the nest protectors. Som Khoeun is one of 20 local community members WCS has hired to guard lesser adjutant nests so far this year. This is the third year he has worked to protect the lesser adjutant nests in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary.

“I am so delighted to see these lesser adjutant groups come and nest here again. After WCS has hired my son and me, we work hard to protect them from disturbances and poaching. We will try our best to protect the nests until chicks successfully hatch and leave the nest.”

Nest protection in the Northern Plains of Cambodia is supported by the Akron Zoological Park, Sam Veasna Centre, the European Union, Agence Française de Développement, and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.