Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Gangtey, Wangdue, 2016 — Black-necked crane Karma was found injured. Injuries to his wing have left him unable to fly.

For over two years, Karma has lived in a small shed near the BNC visitor centre in the Phobjikha valley. A mirror was placed inside the shed to give him the illusion of company.   

Today much has changed: an aviary has replaced the shed, and Karma lives in the company of a female crane, Pema, the name bestowed to her by Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck.

According to BNC visitor centre’s manager, Santa Lal Gajmer, Karma was found when he was still a juvenile, about six months old. Today he wears a red crown patch, indicating adulthood.  

Santa Lal Gajmer said that the aviary was built in 2018, funded by crowdfunding efforts and donations, to accommodate Karma for life.

Then, Pema was found last December in Khamey, in Lhangthel, Trongsa. The bonding process between the two cranes took almost a month.

The National Coordinator for BNC Conservation, Jigme Tshering, said that while Pema’s injuries on her wings have healed, the centre is not sure whether she can fly.

“We cannot risk releasing her right now. We think she was injured by colliding with a pole line. If we release her and she cannot fly, it would be very risky.”

Santa Lal Gajmer and the staff at the centre helped the two cranes bond. 

In the early days, Karma would constantly poke his beak at her and thrash about, and Pema had to run for safety.

Santa Lal Gajmer said that the team then stretched a net across the aviary, dividing it in half. Pema and Karma shared the aviary, but were separated by the net.

Later, the net was opened at both ends, so if Karma attacked, Pema was able to escape to the other end, said Santa Lal Gajmer.

“So slowly, they bonded—it took around 15 to 20 days. They have now bonded well and they also make unison calls. From that, we know they are friends,” Santa Lal Gajmer said.

He added that Karma’s behaviour towards the centre’s staff has also changed after he bonded with Pema. “In the past, when people came, even the staff, he was aggressive. Now he’s not acting like that.”

Today, sharing the aviary, Karma and Pema are often observed making the unison calls, bathing in the artificial pond in the aviary, and sharing meals.

Jigme Tshering said that black-necked cranes mate for life. 

He added that because the two cranes have bonded, if one of them is to be released, there is risk of death. “If we release one, it would be separating them.”

While excited onlookers discuss the prospects of the two cranes breeding, Jigme Tshering said that because of Pema’s broken left wing, copulation would be difficult.

The centre and Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) are looking to further expand the aviary and improve the space to treat and rehabilitate injured cranes, for which USD 32,000 is required.

Jigme Tshering said that according to international standards, the dimensions are adequate, but the environment inside must be improved. “Inside, the natural food is also running out. After extending, we are planning to keep it natural where they can find natural food, and also be given supplements.”

Currently, the two cranes are fed Karma Feed.

Cranes live up to 35 to 40 years in the wild; they live longer in captivity. Karma is about six to seven years old, and he could live to be over 40 years old.

Donations can be made by visiting the RSPN website.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk