Bhutan’s efforts increase Black-necked Crane population and safety

Choki Wangmo 

Black-necked Crane or Grus nigricollis (BNC) has moved one category closer to safety—from vulnerable to near threatened— according to the IUCN’s Redlist of Threatened Species 2020.

According to IUCN report published last year, the species is classified as ‘near threatened’ because it has a single small population that is subject to a number of threats that are suspected to be sufficient to cause future declines.

“It no longer qualifies as ‘vulnerable’ as there is no continuing decline,” it stated.

The recent increase in the population has been driven by a reduction in adult mortality through a combination of winter habitat protection and creation, and increased suitable breeding habitat due to glacial melting.

Chief Communications Officer with Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Jigme Tshering, said that benefits from glacial melting were short-term. “In the long run, continuous rise in the global temperature would melt the permafrost and the wetlands will be disappearing.”

In Bhutan, from 2019-2020, RSPN had recorded 590 crane arrivals in the country.

Jigme Tshering said that although the general population trend has been increasing, at the local level, there were various sites which were abandoned by cranes due to habitat degradation.

The cranes are found in the wetlands of Tibetan plateau in western China, adjacent parts of northern India, and Bhutan. Over the years, these areas were encroached on by intensive agriculture and urbanisation, studies found.   

“Population has been increasing only in Phobjikha, but in other parts of the region, arrival has decreased,” Jigme Tshering said.

He also said that the cranes have now adapted to foraging in the farmlands, which would cause human-wildlife conflict in the future. “It, however, is an opportunity to promote crane-friendly or organic farming.”

To address the challenge, in the last three years, RSPN, in collaboration farmers of Bumdeling, Tashiyangtse restored degraded fields. The fields were left fallow in winter for cranes to feed on.

Currently, more than 300 acres of paddy field in Bumdeling were restored and fenced.

A BNC conservation action plan was also developed in collaboration with the forest department, which would bring coordination among the stakeholders to implement conservation activities.

The IUCN report, however, stated that the species’ threat will grow, specifically from feral dogs and human disturbance at breeding sites, and power line collisions and accidental poisoning events during migration and non-breeding season.

In 2014, the global population of BNC is estimated at 10,000-10,200 individuals, roughly an equivalent to 6,600-6,800 mature individuals. Recent counts suggest that numbers may be larger than published data. The current population trend is marked ‘stable’.

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