Cambodia announces protection of Bengal Florican habitat


Bengal Florican: The protected area will cover over 30,000 ha near the Tonle Sap lake (photo: Allan Michaud).

The Government of Cambodia has made a significant step towards protecting important habitat for the Bengal Florican. In an effort to save this Endangered flagship species from extinction, more than one hundred miles of grassland habitat is to be set aside as Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Areas (IFBAs).

Restricted to tiny fragments of grassland scattered across Cambodia, Nepal and India, the Bengal Florican - the world's rarest bustard - is known to have become increasingly threatened by land conversion for intensive agriculture, particularly from dry-season rice production. Cambodia, estimated to have fewer than 1,000 individuals, holds the world's largest population of floricans.

Surveys in spring of this year highlighted the disappearance of grassland habitat in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces, as a key reason behind the decline in Bengal Floricans. The florican has suffered enormous declines because of large-scale changes in agricultural techniques that have occurred throughout Southeast Asia. The surveys were undertaken by BirdLife International alongside the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the University of East Anglia (UK), the Wildlife Protection Office and the Department of Nature Conservation and Parks, both government organisations.

The surveys highlighted the importance of traditional agricultural practices - grazing, burning and scrub-clearance - in ensuring populations of floricans can be sustained. This led to successful proposals for the designation of IFBAs - Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Areas.

"Bengal Floricans thrive in habitats that are also used by local communities for a range of crucial livelihood activities. Indeed, without human use, much of the habitat would probably become unsuitable." said Jonathan Eames, BirdLife Indochina Programme Manager. "Rapid agricultural change driven by larger investors is harming the birds and also has impacts on local smallholders. By incorporating and promoting suitable agricultural techniques, we have a sustainable option for ensuring the Bengal Florican can still exist in this region."

The decision to set up the IFBAs has come from Nam Thum, the provincial governor of Cambodia's Kampong Thom province, near Phnom Penh. The area will cover over 30,000 ha near the Tonle Sap lake. The decisions have been commended by BirdLife International and WCS. "We wholeheartedly applaud this decision and are encouraged that further areas may soon afford a similar status," said Eames.

IFBA proposals are being developed in three other nearby provinces, increasing the total number of floricans that can be conserved and widening the social benefits.

To find more similar stories, why not subscribe to BirdLife International's World Birdwatch magazine.
Written by: BirdLife International