Can Cambodia’s Rice Farmers And Bengal Floricans Co-Exist?
Commercial dry-season rice cultivation in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap floodplain increasingly threatens the critically endangered Bengal florican, a new study says. This and other threats puts the species at high risk of extinction in the near future, unless it is managed appropriately.
Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society.
Conducted by researchers with the Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and WCS Cambodia, the study assesses the impact of local community livelihood activities on Bengal florican habitat in and around the Northern Tonle Sap Protected Landscape in Kompong Thom and Siem Reap provinces.
Identifying a significant increase in dry-season rice adoption by local communities since 2005, the authors share several reasons for concern. “Dry season rice cultivation increasingly encroaches on Bengal florican breeding areas, disturbing the birds during key breeding periods,” said Imperial College of London’s Harriet Ibbett, corresponding author of the study.” In addition, dry-season rice cultivation is strongly associated with agro-chemical use that has potentially significant implications for florican food availability.”
She added, “An estimated 20 percent of dry season rice fields are located within identified florican habitat, including formally protected areas. Forty-six percent of dry-season rice farmers cultivate two crops of rice per year, extending cultivation activities into breeding periods. This significantly reduces both the amount of time and habitat that floricans have to breed undisturbed and successfully.”
But there is reason for hope, say the authors. Bengal floricans can breed in dry-season rice fields as long as only one crop of rice is cultivated each year and areas of long grass are retained in head-ponds or along broad embankments.
“Substantial investment in community engagement, education and outreach are required to prevent the extinction of the florican,” said Simon Mahood, WCS Senior Technical Advisor. “Beyond protected areas, we urgently need to work with dry season rice farmers to help them make their farming profitable and compatible with Bengal floricans. For example, we need to trial legumes instead of a second crop of rice to improve soil fertility and create foraging habitat for floricans.”
The Bengal florican is listed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered, and has a global population of fewer than 800 individuals. Cambodia is the most important country worldwide for Bengal florican conservation with an estimated 432 individuals nationwide in 2012. The grassland habitat of the Tonle Sap floodplain in Kompong Thom Province is home to the largest population of the birds in the world and is critical to their survival.
In other findings, the study indicated that at least 8 percent of surveyed households actively hunt birds in grassland areas, suggesting a small but significant threat to floricans. Hunting levels were highest around unprotected areas, highlighting a pressing need for greater protection and awareness raising programs within these communities.
“There is an urgent need for conservation interventions in unprotected grassland areas, and the findings emphasize the role of community engagement in improving protection within protected areas,” said Hong Chamnan, Ministry of Environment’s Deputy Director of Freshwater Wetlands Conservation.
“Conserving a globally threatened species in a semi-natural, agrarian landscape,” appears in the journal Oryx. Authors include: Harriet Ibbett of Imperial College London; Chansetha Lay, Ponlork Phlai, and Chamnan Hong of WCS-Cambodia; E.J. Milner-Gulland of the University of Oxford; Det Song of the Royal University of Agriculture; and Simon P. Mahood of WCS-Cambodia and Charles Darwin University.
This study was funded by Chester Zoo Act for Wildlife Fund, Tropical Agriculture Association Award Fund, Imperial College London, WCS Cambodia and the UK National Environment Research Council.
Conservation of the Bengal florican is supported by Foundation Ensemble, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the Macarthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society