Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The discovery of three new red-headed vulture nests in Cambodia has offered conservationists hope that protection efforts are paying off.
The red-headed vulture, Sarcogyps calvus, is one of three vulture species found in Cambodia that is listed as critically endangered by the International Union of Concerned Scientists. There are less than 50 individuals left in the wild.
Cambodia's forests are also home to the slender-billed vulture, Gyps tenuirostris, and white-rumped vulture, Gyps bengalensis, of which there are only a few hundred left.
The latest discovery suggests the most vulnerable of the three species is stabilizing. Nests are a sign of reproductive activity -- good news for the red-headed vulture and their human protectors.
The nests were found by a team of conservationists, including scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society, in Cambodia's Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary.
WCS has hired members of the local community to help protect the vulture nests and their inhabitants.
"I am eager to protect vulture nests because I can generate income to support my family and I'm able to join in conserving this species that is now very rare," Soeng Sang, a participant in the Bird's Nest Protection Program, said in a news release. "I have spent much of my time staying near the nest site to prevent any disturbances or harm. I am committed to saving this bird for the next generation."
Like many endangered species, Cambodia's vultures face the triple threat of hunting, deforestation and human development. Because vultures scavenge, they are susceptible to poison used by villages to kill other animals.
"The red-headed vulture is a very rare species; they are facing a high risk of extinction," said Tan Sophan, WCS's vulture project coordinator in Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary. "Besides nest protection, we also organize 'vulture restaurants' to feed vultures every month."
In addition to providing an extra meal to the bride, the vulture restaurants offer sanctuary visitors a chance to see and learn about the endangered species.