The Ministry of Environment, Ratanakkiri Provincial Administration and partner organisations are stepping up their efforts in the conservation of cranes in their nesting area within the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary in Kon Mom district.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the latest census results indicated a steady decline in their numbers over the past three years.

“According to the census, Cambodia had 194 cranes in 2020 but down to only 164 in 2021. This year, a new report, which we have not officially issued yet, shows that the number of cranes has gone down even further to just over 150,” he said.

Pheaktra said that June to October is the nesting season for cranes in the grasslands, noting that they used to be present in many other areas of Cambodia such as the protected landscapes at Anlung Pring in Kampot province’s Kampong Trach district; Boeung Prek Lapouv in Takeo province; and Ang Trapeang Thmor in Banteay Meanchey province’s Phnom Srok district.

He said cranes at the site included males, females and a baby living like a family while foraging in the area between November and May. But aside from those months, all of the cranes would generally disappear because they would migrate elsewhere and continue on with their mating cycle by nesting in the grasslands of the Lumphat sanctuary in Ratanakkiri’s Kon Mom district over an area of 270ha.

“Now across 270ha of land, according to expert officials, we have three families totalling about 11 cranes, which isn’t many for the nesting season,” he said.

Pheaktra confirmed that NatureLife Cambodia – a conservation organisation established with support from BirdLife International – has received permission from the ministry to participate in the crane conservation efforts and has done important work cooperating with the community to protect these nests of cranes, giant ibis and other rare birds.

He said that for the bird’s safety in case the population mysteriously swelled, the 270ha area has been set aside as a conservation habitat for cranes to nest, lay eggs and hatch them. The ministry placed 10 big boundary poles and 70 small boundary ones to warn others to stay out of the protected habitat.

“Thus, in order to increase the safety of cranes in this area, the ministry and provincial administration have advised NatureLife Cambodia to set up towers around the area and keep watch to deter any intruders there,” he said.

He said the area already prohibited the present of domestic dogs because they tend to sniff out and eat crane eggs. The ministry also does not allow people to enter the nesting grounds from June to October, which is usually when the cranes are hatching their eggs.

“Thus, to increase the safety of cranes in this area, we will put some practical measures in place to protect them,” he said.

Thol Sovannarith, project director of NatureLife Cambodia, said that during the dry season the cranes move their habitat from around the Tonle Sap Lake to the nesting grounds in Lumphat.

“The failure to conserve cranes in the nesting area is mostly due to people bringing pet dogs to hunt or take the cranes’ eggs because their nests are easy to see since they make them on the grass,” he said.

He said the organisation’s team and the communities nearby have been working regularly to preserve and maintain crane nests and habitats in the nesting area of the Lumphat sanctuary.

According to Pheaktra, crane is among birds present in Southeast Asia listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

According to their data, between 13,000 and 15,000 cranes live in the world today – in habitats as diverse as India and Australia or Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

“Cranes have been present in Cambodia for a long time. If we visit the Bayon temple in Siem Reap, we will see a crane sculpture carved into the rock of the wall. In Asia, crane is a symbol of good fortune and longevity. They are also thought to be a symbol of sincere love because of the way they form partner relationships. In Myanmar, cranes are considered sacred in Buddhism,” he said.

He said the ministry as well as partner organisations and other relevant institutions are working together to discuss the possibility of increasing crane numbers via a captive breeding programme that would then release the birds into the wild.