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MY PHNOM PENH: Simon Mahood: Conservationist

Simon Mahood, senior technical adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Simon Mahood, senior technical adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

MY PHNOM PENH: Simon Mahood: Conservationist

For nearly five years, Simon Mahood, a senior technical adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society, has worked across the Kingdom to protect native wildlife and natural habitats. His expertise is birdlife, so this week, the Englishman invited Alana Beitz to step outside the city and discover the best places to enjoy some rare bird-watching experiences.

Prek Toal

PREK TOAL

In a flooded forest on the Tonle Sap between Battambang and Siem Reap lives Southeast Asia’s largest water bird colony. It’s the best place to see many different species in one place. There’s everything, including herons, ibises, pelicans and storks. From a conservation perspective, Prek Toal is a real success. Less than 15 years ago, the total number of birds dropped to under a thousand due to excessive egg collecting. WCS partnered with the Ministry of Environment to establish an ecotourism trade, employing locals to protect and monitor the colony. Now, the bird population has flourished to over 100,000.

Mekong islands from Kratie to Stung Treng

MEKONG ISLANDS FROM KRATIE TO STUNG TRENG

Along this stretch of the Mekong, the river channels become braided and create these huge sandy islands. These islands are very important nesting sites for a number of bird species, including the river tern. Recently, this species has declined in numbers very quickly as a direct result of human activity. Their reproduction numbers have fallen because humans and dogs take their eggs, and their environment is being destroyed by hydro development on the river. Currently, there are not many more than 100 river terns left in this area, which makes them a primary conservation concern.

Siem Reap-Kampong Thom border

SIEM REAP-KAMPONG THOM BORDER

Beneath the grass of the lowlands on the border between Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces hides the Bengal Florican, one of the most elusive and threatened bird species in the world. Less than a thousand Bengal Floricans are left in the wild, and while they can also be found in India and Nepal, half of the remaining population lives here in Cambodia. This makes the region the best location to catch the rare bird perform its ‘dance’, leaping above the grass before floating gently back into hiding, a fantastic sight for any avid birdwatcher. Their numbers are dwindling with their environment, which is under pressure from agricultural land demand, creating a serious threat of extinction.

Tmatbauy village

TMATBAUY VILLAGE

This village inside the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is the easiest place in the world for birdwatchers to come and see the giant ibis, Cambodia’s national bird, and the white-shouldered ibis. Ten years ago there were only three white shouldered ibis left in the area, today, that number has grown to 50, which is a great success. Similar to Prek Toal, an ecotourism venture was established between WCS and the local community to generate profits and encourage the locals to protect the environment. This has led to a significant decline in hunting and an improvement in the number of Ibis in the region. Although there are only 20 nests, Tmatbauy has one of the best giant ibis populations in the world, which almost exclusively lives in Cambodia now.

Keim Seima Wildlife Sanctuary

KEO SEIMA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

This forest, close to the border of Vietnam in Mondulkiri province, is much denser than other forests in Cambodia, which can be a challenge for birdwatchers. The small but colourful Pitta bird lives on the forest floor of this region, but its secretive nature makes it difficult to spot. If you don’t glimpse a bird, you will definitely spot a primate. Species like gibbons and the black-shanked douc are protected through another ecotourism scheme developed with the Ministry of Environment, the Jahoo Gibbon Camp. The camp is about a 30-minute trip from Sen Monorom, and allows visitors to stay on site in one of the most distinct forests of Cambodia.

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