Conservation of a very rare species in a rapidly changing context
: Cambodia’s Bengal Florican

  • Simon Peter Mahood

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU

    Abstract

    The Southeast Asian subspecies of Bengal Florican Houbaraopsis bengalensis blandini, a Critically Endangered bustard, is one of the most threatened bird taxa in Southeast Asia. The only remaining population is located in the Tonle Sap Floodplain, Cambodia. This thesis consists of research that addresses the question of how can a species that is so poorly adapted to the modern world be saved from extinction in the context of a country undergoing rapid development and change? I first quantify the recent rapid population decline and show that Bengal Florican abandon sites when suitable habitat contracts to less than 25 km2. I show that conservation measures have stabilised the population at one small site, and I evaluate progress in research and management from that site, and from sites in India and Nepal that support florican populations, and use these to develop a framework for conservation collaboration across sites. I then build a case for immediate conservation action by showing that recent habitat changes in the Tonle Sap Floodplain due to agricultural intensification in Cambodia are greater than the predicted future impacts of climate-change and hydropower dams. However, because in situ conservation alone may be insufficient to save H. b. blandini, I apply the IUCN guidelines for captive management and use a decision tree to help stakeholders thoroughly consider the risks associated with ex situ conservation. Lastly, I draw on my experience of Bengal Florican conservation to propose a theory, called the law of small sites, to explain why small sites, such as those used by remaining floricans, are of high importance for conservation; I also explain why the nature of this explanation is important for the conservation of very rare species. I conclude by discussing my research in the context of how success in conservation of H. b. blandini could be conceptualised.
    Date of AwardMay 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStephen Garnett (Supervisor)

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