Though most of the vulture populations across Asia are facing extinction, the annual vulture census in Cambodia has shown an increase in the nation's various vulture species.
The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project the organization that conducts the census found 296 birds of three species at multiple sites across the country. The record count means that Cambodia is home to the only increasing population of vultures in Asia.
The census indicates that the country's population of white-rumped vultures is increasing, while red-headed and slender-billed vultures were found to be stable. All three species are listed as "Critically Endangered" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Conservation efforts by the project include the protection of vulture nests by locals paid for their support, which boosts the chances of nesting success while benefitting the community. In addition, feeding stations supplement vulture food and also give visitors the opportunity to see the birds up close.
"By protecting nests and supplementing food supplies, we are saving some of the world's largest and most charismatic birds," said Hugo Rainey, the Wildlife Conservation Society technical advisor to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. "Nowhere else in Asia do vultures have such a promising future."
Vulture populations in Southeast Asia are threatened by the declining number of large herbivores in the region, but luckily have been mostly unaffected by a threat to the rest of Asia's vultures: the veterinary drug diclofenac. The anti-inflammatory drug, used on cattle, is toxic to vultures, which can die after feeding on these cattle carcasses. It has led to global population declines higher than 99 percent in some vulture species.
While Cambodian vultures may be safe from diclofenac, conservationists in the area are still concerned with the presence of pesticides. Since 2008, more than 20 vultures have died from consuming domestic animals that had been poisoned by the inappropriate use of pesticides
"Cambodia has become a critical source site for vultures, one that we need to protect as a means of saving these ecologically valuable birds," said Joe Walston, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program.