First Successful Tagging of Red-headed Vultures in Cambodia

Two Red-headed vultures have been satellite tagged in Cambodia. The first, a juvenile, was successfully caught and tagged on 29 July 2023 by the Rising Phoenix team in Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary (SPWS), in northern Cambodia. Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary is arguably the last stronghold for Cambodian vultures and an important focus for Rising Phoenix activities. Along with weekly vulture restaurants and the installation of artificial nests, breeding success is closely monitored and a GPS tagging program is ongoing for the three Critically Endangered vulture species present at the site. This represents the first-ever tagging of a Red-headed Vulture in Cambodia.

Tagging the Red-headed Vulture Photo by Rising Phoenix

Vulture tagging in Cambodia dates back to 2005, when a WCS team led by Martin Gilbert successfully caught and tagged two Slender-billed Vultures and two White-rumped Vultures. More recently in 2020 two White-rumped Vultures were tagged by Rising Phoenix’s team in Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary which led to the discovery of a remaining breeding colony in Laos.

This latest campaign of tagging began in March 2023, when Samnang Eang (head of the Biodiversity Monitoring Unit in SPWS) travelled to Nepal for in-person training provided by SAVE. He has now been able to put this into practice with the recent tagging. The story continues with the visit at SPWS of Andre Botha, eminent vulture specialist from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (South Africa). During his Cambodia visit, Andre further trained the team with fitting telemetry devices using the thoracic x-strap method, always keeping in mind the safety of the birds as priority. Tagging a rehabilitated Cinereous Vulture provided a useful training opportunity, plus successfully catching and tagging two White-rumped Vultures. In the following months, Rising Phoenix’s team led by Samnang Eang was able to catch and tag two more White-rumped Vultures and more recently two Slender-billed Vultures.

But Red-headed Vultures proved harder to catch. The team used decoys to help attract them and the first bird was caught on 29 July, and then a second bird, this time an adult female was then caught on 3rd August. Both birds were fitted with Ornitela OrniTrack50 GPS-GSM trackers, and their movements have since then been successfully tracked almost in real-time.

The Red-headed Vulture information will be of special interest, being the first for Cambodia, but data for all three species is extremely valuable and will aid comprehension of their ecology and behaviour for conservation planning. If resources can be found, Rising Phoenix hopes to extend this work for more birds and potentially other Globally Threatened species in Cambodia.

This work is undertaken by Rising Phoenix within the framework of an agreement between Siem Pang Conservation and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment. Support was gratefully received for purchase of the GPS trackers (for the Red-headed Vultures) from Fondazione A.R.C.A. – Animal Research Conservation in Action, the foundation of Parco Natura Viva, the zoological park in Italy with Red-headed Vulture breeding experience.


Contributed by Romain Legrand:

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