Chhimi Dema 

The Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) last year established the White-bellied Heron Conservation Centre in Tsirang as part of an effort to protect the bird species which is critically endangered in the world today.

The centre, after its establishment, was on a quest to home a few of the critically endangered bird species.

The quest was successful. The centre lifted three White-bellied Herons (WBH) from Rilangthang­–a WBH nest site that has been regularly used since 2018.

Today, the two herons at the centre are growing healthy, according to RSPN’s chief of species and habitat conservation division, Indra Prasad Acharja.

The youngest chick did not survive. RSPN after a post-mortem found that the cervical vertebrae were fractured at the neck and there were a few fractures at the fibula region of the right leg and internal bleeding.

Currently, Bhutan has 23 WHB and globally, the bird population is less than 60.

To discuss and share insights on diverse conservation practices, technologies, developments, and businesses that would pave a pathway to robust and coordinated efforts among the key stakeholders in saving WBH, a two-day meeting was conducted on December 28 and 29 in Punakha.

The meeting had local experts share their learnings on conservation and community livelihood, fish population, Bhutanese river systems, high-end recreational fishing and rafting, and biodiversity, among others.

The objective of the meeting was to explore new conservation ideas, technologies and financing mechanisms to conserve WHB and foster cooperation, partnership and coordination at the national level to address the WBH conservation challenges.

During the meeting, Indra Prasad Acharja said that recreating and restoring wild habitats, protecting wild breeding populations and sites, addressing threats, and improving breeding success and survival are going to restore and protect the WHB population.

“If the wild habitats aren’t significantly restored no individual release [from the conservation centre] will survive,” he said.

He added that if no conservation activities are carried out, the bird would go extinct from 2052 to 2060. “If we can increase the juvenile survival rate then it would have an impact on the population. The extinction probability will go down by 2 to 3 percent.”

RSPN has been involved in WBH conservation projects since 2003.

Indra Prasad Acharja said that RSPN, moving ahead, would continue conserving the wild herons and their habitats, secure the population and conduct conservation breeding.

He said that there is progress in terms of awareness, stakeholder engagement, and information on WBH. “But we are not yet successful in recovering the population of WBH.”

The centre, Indra Prasad Acharja said, will continue to collect birds called founder population from other nests for breeding or see the feasibility of conducting artificial incubation.

Currently, there are three WBHs at the centre. A juvenile was rescued this year from Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary where the bird was injured while feeding in a private fishery.