Decline of black-necked crane arrivals specific to habitat

Overall arrival still increasing

Conservation: The arrival of black-necked crane (grus nigricollis) in the country may be declining in some of its winter homes, but the overall trend shows an increase in arrival of the endangered bird, according to researchers.

Annual arrivals are on the increase since 1987 going by Royal Society for Protection of Nature’s (RSPN) zoological research on current population status and conservation initiatives. From 270 birds when they first counted in 1987, the non-profit organization counted 550 in 2014. The last count was 544 last year. This is an increase of 48 percent in the course of 28 years.

Between 1987 and 2014, 415 cranes on an average arrived in the country annually. Every year between 1987 and 2014, the number of cranes wintering in Bhutan increased by six on an average.

The rise in arrival has been largely attributed to the 251 percent growth in the number of cranes visiting Phobjikha valley. As per the research, overall arrival has been on steady rise since 1987 although crane arrivals in some wintering grounds such as Bumdeling, Khotakha and Bumthang are declining.

For instance, crane arrival in Bumdeling, which received the highest number of cranes earlier has declined over the years. On the contrary, arrivals in Phobjikha have more than tripled.

In 2014, Phojikha received 422 cranes and 396 last year. RSPN counted 120 cranes in 1987. The 120 birds then were about 32 percent of the total arrivals. Arrivals in Phobjikha now represent 59 percent of the total annual crane arrivals. “Annually the number of cranes visiting Phobjikha has increased on average by 11 birds every year,” the research stated. Crane arrivals in Bumdeling, which received the highest number of 200 cranes in 1987 has declined gradually since 1994. In 2015 only 107 cranes were counted in Bumdeling.

But despite the massive damage to feeding and roosting grounds by floods in 2004 and 1994, Bumdeling has also seen consistent arrival of  the bird, receiving on an average of 111 cranes annually.

Although black-necked crane arrivals also declined in Bumthang since 1990, the number is rising since 2014 when it received 28 cranes. This year 25 cranes are wintering in Bumthang compared to just seven on an average before 2013.

Loss of its habitat to human activities is the chief threat to black-necked cranes globally. In Bhutan predation by common leopard (panthera pradus) is the main concern among Bhutanese conservationists after losing 21 cranes to it as of 2010.

Last year feral dogs in Gyetsa killed a crane. This year a juvenile and an adult are reportedly injured in Phobjikha and Chokhortoe.

Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang

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