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Extinction watch: Giant Ibis – the national bird of Cambodia

Scientific classification: Thaumatibis gigantea

Twice the size of the second largest species of ibis, the Giant Ibis measures up to 39 inches when standing. Listed on the ICUN Red List as critically endangered, the species went unrecorded for more than 50 years until it was rediscovered by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers in 1993. Once found across much of mainland Southeast Asia, today an estimated population of fewer than 200 live mainly in the northern and eastern plains of Cambodia.

In 2005, the Giant Ibis was designated the national bird of Cambodia. Deforestation, climate change and poaching are blamed for the bird’s decline. In August 2017, 19 nests were found in Preah Vihear’s Kulen Promtep and Chhep wildlife sanctuaries, the natural habitat of many Giant Ibis. And in September of the same year, two pairs were found in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. They were the first of the species to be found there in more than a decade.

Ibises are gregarious birds that live, travel and breed in flocks. In flight, they form diagonal lines or V-formations. This formation decreases wind resistance for trailing birds. When the leader of the pack tires, it falls to the back of the formation and another ibis takes its place at the front.These are rather quiet birds, only grunting or croaking on breeding grounds.

Ibises are an ancient species with fossil records going back 60 million years. In ancient Egypt, the sacred ibis was once held in high reverence. Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, was believed to take the form of an ibis. In honour of Thoth, thousands of sacred ibises were mummifi ed and kept in Egyptian temples as pets.,

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