The ibises of Tmatbauy village: a model for bird conservation in northern Cambodia?

14 July 2014 | News story

Tmatbauy village is a special place. Located in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Tmatbauy is where to go to see the Critically Endangered Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantean) and White-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni). The chances of spying these rare birds are increasing each season, thanks to an effective conservation model developed and implemented by SOS Grantee and IUCN Member WCS Cambodia in coordination with the Ministry of Environment and several local NGO partners. More importantly this model not only saves birds, but improves lives and changes local attitudes to conservation as well.  

Located deep in Cambodia’s forested north, the village provides the most advanced example of the three incentive schemes in action, namely Ibis Rice, ecotourism and the Birds’ Nest Protection Scheme. Simon Mahood Technical advisor with WCS explains, “thanks to SOS support these activities continue in Tmatbauy, and have been expanded to other sites in the region”.

Most of the people of Tmatbauy village are rice farmers, explains Simon. With its local NGO partner Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP) the project team developed Ibis Rice, a premium wildlife-friendly product. The people of Tmatbauy grow the rice, selling it to SMP for a 10% premium if they comply with pre-agreed conditions prohibiting hunting of threatened species and the clearance of additional forest. The agreements, based on land-use plans, also form the basis for community land titles. Furthermore, satellite monitoring has shown that rates of land clearance around Tmatbauy village are currently lower than elsewhere in the protected area. Consequently, Ibis Rice protects the ibises, encouraging the scheme to expand to other sites in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, and Ang Trapeang Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve, Simon reports with just a hint of satisfaction.

Also at Tmatbauy, ecotourism creates a clear link between monetary income and ibises. With another local NGO partner, Sam Veasna Centre (SVC), the project team built accommodation and dining facilities for birdwatchers, which SVC brings to the site. A village ecotourism committee manages the tourism and identifies local people to act as guides and cooks. If a visiting birdwatcher sees either species of ibis during their visit then they pay $10 into a Community Development Fund. If however, they see both species then they pay $30. The community can choose how to spend this money; so far they have used it for medicine, books and repairs to a pagoda.

In order to increase the amount of money going into the Community Development Fund by guaranteeing sightings of the ibises, the ecotourism committee has also copied the WCS Birds’ Nest Protection Scheme. This scheme pays local people a daily rate for protecting the nests of threatened birds. The nest protector receives a 100% bonus on their daily wage if the nest fledges successfully. During 2014, Tmatbauy village ecotourism committee paid community members to protect seven White-shouldered Ibis nests. Since WCS has been working at Tmatbauy the population of White-shouldered Ibis has increased from three individuals to nearly 50.

Simon zooms in on the biggest impact of the project so far in his opinion: changing attitudes to nature. One Tmatbauy villager for instance wanted to cut down a dead tree that was standing in her rice field to use for firewood. White-shouldered Ibises use the tree for roosting attracting birdwatchers. Taking the initiative, the village ecotourism committee intervened, proposing an alternative: an annual rental fee for the tree so that its owner receives an income from the birds that roost in it. Seeing the benefit to all, she agreed.

Summing it all up, Simon concludes “the ibises pay the village for protecting the forest, through money from tourists and rice sales”.