Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Saturday, 30th April 2016

Giant ibis spotting in Cambodia

Cambodia is known for plenty of things – Angkor Wat, Tonle Sap Lake and fried grasshoppers to name a few – but it is also home to the giant ibis. This is especially significant, as there are thought to be less than 100 breeding pairs left anywhere on earth.

This makes catching sight of one of these incredible birds an absolute dream for avid twitchers and Cambodia is the place to do it. It is in the wetlands to the north of the country where the birds live and the best chances of spotting one, or several, come through a visit to the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary.

Even just travelling to this remote part of Cambodia is an adventure in itself, but it all helps to build the anticipation for spotting a giant ibis. Visitors can be assured that going to the sanctuary is helping to establish responsible tourism practices, as it is part of a special project.

The Cambodia government, along with the Sam Veasna Centre, an ecotourism and wildlife conservation organisation, have created an award-winning initiative here. It has set out to ensure that the preservation of the species works hand-in-hand with tourism and the development of the local community.

Tours to the area are based around the village of Tmatboey, which is located right in the heart of the sanctuary. Setting out from the village, visitors trek through the wetlands and deciduous forest, while being accompanied by a guide equipped with specialist knowledge on the birds.

While walking everyone is on the lookout for the giant ibis and the white-shouldered ibis, which also nests in the area. The guide’s fee, which goes towards local projects, is only levied if either of these birds is spotted. The idea behind this system is that it provides an economic incentive to the villagers for keeping the birds safe.

There are around 30 to 40 nests at the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary monitored every year. They are the future of the giant ibis and it is vitally important they are protected to ensure the species does not become extinct.

Giant ibis are the national bird of Cambodia and are instantly recognisable by their sheer size – larger than any other member of the ibis family. Having once been found over much of mainland South-east Asia its populations are much decimated and it is considered critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List).

Related news stories:
5 things you didn't know about Cambodia (12th July 2016)
Six books you should read before travelling to Cambodia (5th November 2015)
Enrich your stay in Cambodia through charitable ventures! (20th November 2014)
Cambodia's Healing Fields (24th June 2014)