Endangered cranes still declining

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Cranes at a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia in May. ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY

Rare and endangered cranes are facing a sharp decline in numbers across Cambodia and around the world, which warrants concerted efforts to protect and conserve the birds’ wetland habitats and breeding grounds where not only cranes but also other rare bird species breed and forage for food, a senior environment official said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on July 20 that cranes are big and tall birds that can fly, considering their size. He said crane numbers had significantly declined over the last few years because death rates were high and birth rates were low.

The decline was attributed to human activity and the loss of wetland areas which disrupts feeding and breeding activities, low mating rates, agricultural pollution and a decrease in available food.

Changes to irrigation systems, infectious disease, poaching eggs or colts – baby cranes – from nests, illegal trading, dogs and climate change are contributing factors.

Pheaktra said the ministry has been cooperating with relevant parties to conserve cranes and their habitats. Environmental rangers always patrol natural protected areas which are their habitat.

The ministry has also researched the impact of climate change, designated and managed wetlands as natural protected areas and carried out a crane census every year to collect data on their number in Cambodia.

“The government has also encouraged conservation and assisted in improving the livelihoods of local communities through eco-tourism. We have educated the public about cranes and also observe World Wetlands Day and World Migratory Bird Day,” Pheaktra said.

Srey Sunleang, deputy head of the ministry’s General Department of Nature Protection and Conservation Administration, said cranes are omnivores and eat a range of food from small rodents, bird eggs, fish, amphibians, and insects to grain and berries.

“Cranes use their bills to peck at tubers and insects in the mud and break apart animals such as fish and frogs although they had difficulty breaking these animals into pieces to swallow.

“After farmers have harvested rice, cranes will forage for food in those rice fields by eating rice grains left behind. Female cranes teach their colts techniques to forage for food as well as take food to their babies,” he said.

Recently, BirdLife International Cambodia Programme said they spotted the first sarus crane nest with two eggs during the 2021 breeding season in Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary of the Kingdom’s northeast corridor. But it was later found to have been destroyed by wild pigs.