Cambodia’s national bird may well be critically endangered, but efforts are under way to bring the bird back from the brink of extinction. Here are 11 facts about the Giant Ibis and what makes it so special.
It’s Cambodia’s national bird
In 2005, the Giant Ibis was designated by royal decree as the national bird of Cambodia, helping to raise its profile and boost conservation efforts.
It’s the largest ibis in the world
Twice the size of the second largest species of ibis, the Giant Ibis is just that–giant. On average, adults grow to 40 to 40.5 inches long, measuring up to 39 inches when standing upright. They also weigh in at 4.2kg, with a wing chord of 20.6 to 22.4 inches. The bird can also be distinguished from its loud ringing call–a-leurk a-leurk–that it repeats at dusk and dawn.
It leads a tough life
Listed on the ICUN Red List as critically endangered, the Giant Ibis 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. Deforestation, climate change and poaching are blamed for the bird’s (as well as other wildlife’s) decline.
The Giant Ibis is pretty shy
Shy by nature, the birds feed in secluded forest pools that are far from villages. As a lowland bird, it likes to wade in water, preferably swamps, lakes, rivers, flooded plains, ponds and seasonal water meadows.
It breeds in wet season
Unlike other large water birds living in Cambodia’s Northern and Eastern Plains, the Giant Ibis breeds in the wet season. The females lay two eggs at the start of the rainy season, which is usually around June, and nest in trees.
It looks pretty cool
As well as standing out due to their size, Giant Ibis are pretty striking in the looks department too. Adults tend to be dark, with a grey-brown plumage and naked greyish head and upper neck. They have dark bands across the back of the head and shoulder area, and their pale silvery-grey wing tips also have black crossbars. The beak is yellowish-brown, the legs are orange and the eyes are dark red.
Conservation is crucial for the Giant Ibis
With the bird species classed as critically endangered, the conservation work carried out by organisations, such as WCS and WWF Cambodia, is essential to its survival. Projects include nest protection schemes and educating local communities on the importance of protecting Giant Ibis into the future.
They forage in water
Giant Ibis have long, curved beaks that they use for foraging in shallow waters and between vegetation. Their favoured feast is aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, small reptiles and amphibians, as well as earthworms, locusts, mole-crickets, cicadas and other insects.
Tourists are playing a part in its preservation
Tourism is even playing a role in preserving the Giant Ibis population. A handful of responsible tours offer visitors the chance to catch a rare glimpse of the bird in its natural habitat, with funds ploughed back into conservation efforts. For example, award-winning Sam Veasna Center runs an ecotourism project at Tmatboey, a remote village in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Plains.
19 ibis nests were found in 2017
Several Ibis discoveries were found last year, raising hopes about the Giant Ibis’ future. In August, 19 nests were found in Preah Vihear’s Kulen Promtep and Chhep wildlife sanctuaries, the natural habitat of many Giant Ibis. And in September, WCS and Ministry of Environment workers found two pairs of Giant Ibis in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. They were the first of the species to be found there in more than a decade.
Rice is even helping
In 2009, Ibis Rice launched as an organic, wildlife-friendly rice. The aim was to produce a world-class Cambodian-produced rice while provide struggling rice farmers with a sustainable form of income and protecting the country’s nature. To date, more than 500,000 hectares of forest and wetland have been protected, along with more than 50 endangered species, including Giant Ibis.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.