Decreasing black-necked cranes concern villagers

oss of wetland to development activities seen as a main cause 

BNC: Declining numbers of Black-necked crane (BNC) arriving in Chumey and Tang in Bumthang, and Menbi and Dungkar in Lhuentse is concerning the communities that are used to seeing the birds in their fields.

The issue was raised during a sensitization meeting on BNC in these communities conducted by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) recently.

This year only two cranes arrived in Tang.

“The number of crane arrivals is declining again,” Soenam from Gamling said, worried if the cranes would return next year. Last year four birds came.

The community is worried because BNC is revered as heavenly and auspicious. Its arrival evokes joy and happiness for the cranes’ visit is believed to harbinger bountiful harvests in the villages in the following year.

“When the cranes aren’t around it feels empty as if something is missing,” Soenam said.

An elderly man, Jambay from Gyetsa recalled how as a child he enjoyed watching the cranes dance while herding cattle. “Even here the number of cranes is declining now from over 20-30 I saw as a child,” Jambay said.

This year the number of cranes in Gyetsa dropped to 16 from 22 from the last winter.

In Thangbi only two cranes arrived from minimum of nine before. As per data from RSPN, except for an increase in arrival Phobjikha, BNC arrival is declining in wintering grounds such as Khotakha, Bumdeling and Bumthang.

Loss of wetland, the bird’s feeding and roosting grounds, to developmental activities is the leading cause for decreasing number of cranes. For instance, the cranes are no longer sighted in Bajo after the wetland was turned into a town.

“The depletion in Tangmachu is attributed to diversion of water from wetland by some people,” RSPN programme coordinator, Tshering Phuntsho said, adding the place also lacks proper roosting grounds.

Earlier a research by UWICE researcher, Rinchen Namgay on habitat usage in Bumthang, found majority of sites where cranes visited for roosting and feeding were encroached by human settlement and institutional infrastructures.

“In Chumey, the wetland, where the technical training institute now stands used to be one of the roosting sites,” the study stated. “The cranes left the site since the onset of the institute’s construction.”

Increasing area of agriculture land left fallow is also reducing feeding ground, which adversely affects the turn over, according to the research.

In Tang, the decline was attributed to a major flood in 2007.

“This year the number has decreased possibly from loss of roosting grounds from floods last summer,” Kizom tshogpa, Lekila said.

The crane arrival in Bumdeling also declined almost by half after floods in 1994 and 2004, which destroyed acres of paddy fields.

Attacks from stray dogs, overhead transmission conductors, use of chemicals fertilizers and pesticides, increasing amount of waste are other pressing issues in these winter habitats.

“Dog sterilization needs to be carried out urgently to reduce deaths from canine attacks,” Gyetsa tshogpa, Chundu Tshering said, adding transmission conductors also needs to be made safer for the cranes since cranes are flying into it.

According to RSPN, while ensuring complete safety to the cranes is quite impossible, effects to its roosting and feeding grounds from human activities could be reduced.

“Villagers must stick to organic farming to minimize harmful effects from chemical fertilizers and pesticides to cranes,” Tshering Phuntsho said. “Conversion of wetland to dry land must be reduced besides avoiding barbed wire fence.”

The villagers, however, called for stringent rules to protect wetlands for safeguarding BNC’s roosting and feeding grounds from encroachments.

“BNC conservation would need long-term sustainable plan without compromising livelihood,” Soenam said.

Tempa Wangdi,  Bumthang

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