In contrary to conventional beliefs that presence of human settlements within the Black Necked crane (BNC) habitat impedes conservation of the endangered bird, a research has found out that human settlement and farming practices are critical to its preservation.
The research findings were recorded by a team of researchers from the agriculture ministry who recently conducted a study in Bumthang, one of the prime habitats of BNC, in an attempt to not only identify the different threats, but also to map the BNC habitat in the dzongkhag.
Further, the research also nullifies the earlier findings that use of chemical fertilizers has an immense significance on the crane mortality. One of the critical observations made is that the use of chemical fertilizers does not have significant impact on decrease of crane population, although most farmers within the BNC habitat use chemical fertilizers to increase crop productivity.
The team identified that there are basically four threats, such as biological, social, natural and political threats. From among the four threats, researchers pointed out that the biological threat has a more direct impact on decline on the number of BNCs.
The finding states that there is a strong statistical correlation between bird population and farming practices. This means the bird population depends on the way and type of farming activities people practice. “More areas under cultivation means more foraging areas for cranes, thus more numbers of cranes visitation,” the research paper states.
The team has examined and tried to look into roosting and foraging habitat of BNCs during the winter of 2012-2013 and sighted 16 birds during the study period.
As mapping activity, the team recorded the coordinates and mapped out the exact roosting and foraging habitat. In addition, the research team also interviewed a total of 107 households in the three gewogs of Tang, Chumey and Choekhor.
“We also looked at the conservation threats of cranes in these areas,” said one of the research team members. Four threats have been identified. “This study analysis concludes that the people are an integral part and parcel of the sustainability of Black-Necked cranes in its wintering ecology, and their participation in the cranes conservation works is very much important,” states the research paper which has been published online.
The research team is further attempting to mainstream Bumthang into the crane conservation areas. They acknowledge that when compared to other conservation areas, Bumthang has received the least attention from the conservationists and pro BNC organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Hence, the team has strongly recommended the inclusion of Bumthang cranes habitats to be brought under crane conservation areas like those in Phobjikha and Bumdeling. “Sooner the better,” urged the researchers.
“We recommend that the present roosting and foraging area be designated as part of the conservation areas for cranes wintering in Bumthang,” the researchers stated.
In addition to preserving these areas, the researchers urge the government to take the measures to decrease anthropogenic activities in the crane’s roosting habitats, and encourage farming in foraging habitats of cranes for the sustainability of the cranes.
Population trends of this most vulnerable bird species, BNCs (Grus nigricollis), the researchers said is fluctuating, possibly due to habitat loss and degradation. They have, however, submitted that little is known about which habitat has been lost and degraded, and those areas presently used by the bird.
The population of BNCs visiting Bhutan is found to be increasing, but such an increase is attributed to the increase in number of the cranes visitation in one major wintering habitat in Phobjikha. While in other wintering habitats, cranes visitation are found to be on the decline.
Bumthang has four gewogs, Chokhor, Chhume, Tang and Ura. The dzongkhag encompasses a total area of 2,708.46 sq. km with an altitude ranging from 2400-6000 masl and receives mean annual rainfall of 830.5 mm (NSB, 2011). The dzongkhag has a mean annual temperature of 12° C, with a high of 23° C in July and August and a low of – 6° C in January.