Today’s endangered beastie hails all the way from Cambodia. The giant ibis or Thaumatibis gigantea if we’re going to get scientific. You’ve probably seen some form of an ibis before as there are 28 extant (which means alive) species and 2 extinct species of ibis. However, you can only see the giant ibis in Cambodia or Laos where it’s pretty much endemic. They used to spread across Thailand and Vietnam as well but they are regionally extinct in those countries now.
Giant ibis habitats are around wetlands, seasonal pools, marshes and lowland forests. Although they look like they can’t fly, they actually can. They forage on the ground but nest in trees. You can recognize the giant ibis by its large, curved bill, naked grey head, orange legs and dark red eyes. They have dark bands going down the back of their necks; kind of like wrinkles and their plumage have black cross band lines over pale greyish/brown wings. Offspring look a little bit different than adults because they actually have small feathers down the back of their heads and their eyes are brown instead of dark red.
The diet of a giant ibis is pretty insect based. They like feasting on locusts and cicadas but will occasionally dine on small crustaceans, seeds, and small reptiles and amphibians. Most of their diet is found in soft mud and is also where small pairs or groups gather. Breeding occurs during the wet season which in Cambodia is from June to September. They use the earthworms to create nesting mounds and the female will lay 2 eggs per clutch. Besides that, not much is known about breeding behaviors or lifespan of giant ibis except they are territorial and will usually stay in pairs or small congregations and that they do not migrate.
It is estimated that there are about 250 individuals left in the wild. The major threats to this species are climate change and human disturbance due to agriculture and tourism. Climate change affects them because rainy seasons are not as long which means the giant ibis endure longer periods of drought. The seasonal pools they gather around used to be naturally cared for by megafauna such as water buffalo but consistent human disturbance has caused those animals to move elsewhere. Humans also do not help this species by draining wetlands for farmland as well as collecting giant ibis eggs, disrupting their breeding efforts.
The species has been listed as Critically Endangered since 1994 making it illegal to hunt the giant ibis. In 2015, the Giant Ibis National Action Plan was established focusing on habitat restoration, land management to increase successful breeding, and more research in order to have this species thriving again by 2025. Engagement with local communities to bring about more awareness is also a big contribution to save the giant ibis. In fact, a bus tourism company took on the giant ibis as their champion calling themselves Giant Ibis Transport to bring awareness to tourists and by donating some of its funds to conservation efforts. If this post has caused you to want to help the giant ibis, you could always donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society here.