Where are the White-bellied Heron juveniles?

For the last 13 years, the number of this critically endangered bird has not increased in Berti, Zhemgang 

Conservation: The number of White-bellied Heron (ardea insignis) in Berti, Zhemgang has hasn’t increased for the last 13 years according to villagers and forestry officials at Tingtibi Park Range (TPR).

Berti, a fishing community village sprawling the left bank of Mangdechhu is home to the critically endangered White-bellied Heron.

There are only around 200 White-bellied Herons in the world. Bhutan has around 20 according to the Royal Society for Protection of Nature’s (RSPN) White-bellied Heron population survey in 2013.

Berti has only about two to four herons today and the number has not increased despite new chicks hatching every year.

“For the last 15 years, I have seen only two White-bellied Heron, supposedly a male and a female,” Berti rigsungpa, Dorji, caretaker of the birds said.

According to both park officials and Dorji, the juveniles have been disappearing every breeding season.

“Usually four White-bellied Herons are seen in its breeding season from January-February but both the juveniles were found missing after two months annually,” Dorji said, adding the juveniles usually disappear when the flock with its parents would vanish for about six weeks between May and June.

“Even this year four White-bellied Herons were spotted until the flock disappeared and only two, probably the parents returned,” Dorji said.

Senior forester, A B Ghalley said it has been difficult to tell where the White-bellied Heron juveniles are going.

“No one has been able to figure out where the juveniles disappear every year or if the predators are killing them,” A B Ghallay said, adding it is also difficult to know whether the pair is an adult or juvenile.

“Even if they are killed there has to be some evidence like feathers or bones,” A B Ghalley said. The officials have also ruled out hunting.

Senior ranger, Phuntsho said although it is imperative a research is conducted, the lack of budget has hindered them from initiating one to know why the number of White-bellied Heron has remained stagnant in Berti.

“There is a need to conserve White-bellied Heron, observing from the time of laying eggs to where the juveniles are going,” Phuntsho said, adding such a study would also enable them to understand whether it is in the nature of the White-bellied heron to banish its chicks to other areas or if some external factors are responsible.

“Even if one is dead then it is as good as both are dead since the death of one can affect the other’s survival,” Phuntsho said.

Increasing developmental activities are also doubted of pushing out the White-bellied from their habitats. For instance, the construction of a by-pass road from Tingtibi to Goleng disturbed the White-bellied Heron nest at Chumeypang from where it moved after 2010.

Similarly, Pheteygang which was earlier the roosting area is now deserted because of human disturbances.

“The birds left after the villagers fell trees and tethered cattle in its roosting area,” Dorji said, adding the White-bellied Herons aren’t even roosting in Chabangju now.

Construction of transmission towers has also become a nuisance to the White-bellied Heron.

Bermu sand quarry is also blamed for disturbing the roosting and feeding grounds of the bird. After the White-bellied Heron moved from Chabangju, its new nest hasn’t been found, yet.

“We tried to trace the nest but couldn’t find even after four days of search until Rabang,” Dorji said, adding it is now increasingly becoming difficult to see the White-bellied Heron in Berti.

“Earlier we would see it by Berti River now it’s seen only in flight,” Dorji said.

Tempa Wangdi, Tingtibi

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