Conserving the Magnificent Black-Necked Cranes

Sonam Penjor

To maintain a viable winter population of Black-necked Cranes (BNCs) in the country through improved habitat, enhanced community support and increased knowledge base, the BNC conservation action plan for Bhutan 2021-2025 was launched.

This plan will be implemented according to the four objectives alongside a series of concrete strategic actions, and measured through relevant targets and appropriate indicators.

The objectives comprises of improving conservation management through habitat mapping, ensuring engagement with local communities while supporting sustainable livelihood opportunities, strengthening research and knowledge management by supporting interdisciplinary studies.

It will also look at promoting BNC conservation education through effective coordination of various stakeholder groups, institutions and agencies. Applying and implementing actionable steps to assure the protection of the species in Bhutan will help towards accomplishing these objectives.

In order to ensure the protection of critical wintering habitat sites for BNCs in the country, the action plan states that proper management of habitats must include strategies that consider restoration, invasive species control, and linking national biodiversity policy to local land-use practices.

The plan is to provide focus to actions that explore the capacity for improved documentation and regulatory mechanisms in BNC winter population management. In addition to more dedicated mapping efforts and habitat assessments, and to recognizes that conservation will require a synergy between protected area and development management schemes, while paying special attention to emergent threats such as stray dog mismanagement.

In order to reach the target response for each strategic action, stakeholders should be mindful to solidify indicators to track progress towards the strategies overarching objectives.

Conservation efforts for BNCs cannot be sustainably governed without support and involvement of local communities. Therefore, conservation programs and management strategies must be linked with investment in local livelihoods, community interests, and cultural beliefs and values.

In order to effectively engage in BNC conservation, an understanding of its behavioral and habitat ecology must be linked with collaborative research that prioritizes in-depth understanding of the social, economic, and cultural realities of engaged communities.

Effective communication and collaboration must exist across stakeholder groups in wintering habitats for BNCs, representing a nation-wide conservation strategy. This will necessarily include capacity building efforts to enhance regional training opportunities and avenues for networking among others.

Meanwhile, like many other vulnerable and endangered species, loss of habitat and environmental degradation are perhaps the primary threats BNCs are facing today.

Anthropogenic pressures and subsequent ecological change catalyze these threats. These pressures are more serious in the wintering areas where wetlands have been extensively impacted by irrigation projects, dam construction, drainage and conversion to agriculture, river channelization, heavy grazing pressure, sedimentation, industrial pollution, and other factors.

BNC are revered for their magnificence and worshipped as religious symbols in various cultures wherever they are found. Ecologically, cranes serve as an umbrella species ensuring conservation of biodiversity at a broader ecosystem perspective.

In the country, over 600 Black-necked Cranes migrate to several valleys of Bumthang, Lhuntse, Trashi Yangtse and Wangduephodrang every winter between October and March. The conservation of BNC in Bhutan started as early as 1986 and provided highest protection under Schedule I of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act, 1995. Of late, efforts have been made towards habitat improvement, enhancing community support and research. Yet this beautiful bird is globally threatened due to loss of habitat, climate change and human disturbances.

BNCs face increasing threats from infrastructure development, changing land use patterns and agricultural practices, predation by stray dogs, eutrophication of wetlands and climate change. The BNC conservation is challenged with limited research and resources, poor coordination amongst stakeholders, poor awareness and participation by the communities.

In order to maintain a viable wintering population of BNCs in Bhutan, this conservation action plan will strive to mitigate threats and challenges faced by BNC through improvement of habitat, enhancing community support and stakeholder coordination and increasing research and knowledge base.

Besides intending to address the direct threats to BNC conservation, the plan also strategizes to incentivize communities living in all the habitats. In addition to charting out measures to mitigate and resolve conflicts, the plan focuses on preventing conflict through habitat improvement, restoration of degraded sites and ensuring safe habitats for the BNCs.

The BNC Conservation Action Plan for Bhutan will be implemented from the year 2021 to 2025 for a period of five years with an estimated cost of Nu 67.67-million. The financing and implementation of this action plan will be a collaborative effort by the Department of Forests and Park Services and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature.

The plan implementation will be monitored and evaluated as per the indicators and targets as outlined in the logical framework.