River tern population in Mekong doubles in five years

Posted on 11 February 2021

Conservation efforts give big boost to iconic species
WWF’s research team spotted a total of 68 River Terns during their bird surveys in early February along the Mekong river between Kratie, Stung Treng provinces and the Laos border.
The researchers, whose surveys were funded by the Government of Belgium and WWF-Belgium, observed the presence of these magnificent birds as many were using rapids as their perch for catching fish, while others were roaming the sandbars in search of a mate.
“The River Tern is a medium-sized bird with a forked tail, a black cap and a white belly and is more visible during its breeding season, starting from January until May,” said Eam Sam Un, Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Manager with WWF, adding that the current count is slightly higher than last year's 64 individuals.
A comparison of all records of the River Tern in the Mekong landscape showed the population has doubled over the past five years, from only 31 birds in 2016 to 68 individuals in early 2021.
“This is such a rewarding news for Cambodia and the region,” said Seng Teak, WWF Country Director, adding that concerted conservation actions have bent the curve of species' decline and provide hope for a recovery of the species in Cambodia and the region.
“I would like to commend the tireless efforts in protected area management, law enforcement and community engagement by the provincial and local government, especially the Provincial Departments of Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries, Environment, all involved partners and WWF, as well as the participation from the local communities in the habitat areas,” Seng Teak said.
Ther River Tern is one of the rarest bird species in South East Asia. In Cambodia, River Terns have decreased by 80% in the past 20 years, primarily due to habitat loss, nest flooding, hunting for their eggs, predation by domestic animals and wildlife.
For this reason, the IUCN recently reclassified the bird as “Vulnerable” in the Red List of Threatened Species.
In addition to the protected area management effort, the conservation strategy implemented by WWF in cooperation with government institutions and partners actively engaged local people to implement the community-based bird nest protection programme, while providing alternative livelihoods options for household income generation.

Last year, a total of 47 nests of River Tern were guarded by the local communities along the Mekong habitat landscape.
River terns in the Mekong river, Cambodia
© Eam Sam Un / WWF-Cambodia
Nuit Puin and his wife are River Tern nest protectors from the Koh Preah area. Here they place an exclusion fence around the nest to protect the chicks from harm, in this case specifically rats.
© Jeff Schwlik