Bumthang is considered as one of the prime habitat areas for the Black-necked cranes (BNCs), but of late, the number of the birds roosting in the dzongkhag has reportedly plummeted.
The conservationist say there is a critical need to conserve and protect the habitats of BNCs, as danger to their habitat means danger to their survival. Crane habitats in Bumthang are mainly found in the three gewogs of Chumey, Choekhor and Tang.
The evidence of the cranes abandoning its habitats in Bumthang is visible as the cranes do not roost Khoyear in Tang anymore. A recent survey also found that the cranes have abandoned their roosting grounds around Usang, Gyetsa and Thomey. The news is not good for other areas in Choekhor, Gongkhar and Dorjibi with no BNCs found there either.
The survey found the increase in fallow lands and draining of wetlands in Bumthang are the main reasons for the cranes abandoning its habitat. The BNC choose to roost around agricultural fields and marshes. Bumthang had five roosting grounds suited for the cranes, but the report highlights three habitats have been lost, two in Choekhor and one habitat in Chumey.
The report also points to the lack of inventory and mapping of roosting and foraging habitats of the birds in the dzongkhag so far. Such comprehensible documentation of the crane habitat is required to curb the risk of the birds abandoning their habitats.
The reports states nothing much has been done in the conservation of the cranes roosting in Bumthang as it receives the least priority as compared to rest of the other crane habitats, like Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse and Phobjikha in Wangdue. In addition, BNC are reported to have found new roosting grounds beside their prime habitat.
Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) initiated numerous activities in proactively conserving BNC over last few decades. This includes many awareness creation, participatory involvement of local communities and annual BNC festivals. The latest intervention include RSPN constructing and creating artificial roosting areas at Phobjikha, one of the prime BNC habitats, but the report stated that nothing much has done in Bumthang as of now.
A recent field survey for the habitat mapping was carried out in Bumthang by using Garmin GPSMAP 60x to record the coordination of the crane habitat, both former and current roosting habitats, were collected and mapped.
There are 10,970 BNCs worldwide, and among them, 509 cranes came to roost in Bhutan in the winter of 2005 – 2006, the highest ever recorded. Further, records with RSPN states that on an average, atleast 500 birds roost in various parts of the country every winter.
BNC were also spotted roosting in places like Kangpara in Trashigang, Punakha and Lhuentse. BNC have been sighted in Gelephu, a low altitude place in Bhutan, perceived unsuitable for the BNC to thrive in. The loss of their primary habitat to development and other factors is causing the BNCs to look for other back-up places to roost.
BNC, an alpine crane species, is the last 15 crane species to be discovered and the bird is listed as vulnerable under the revised International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Meanwhile, the population of cranes visiting in the prime habitat area of Phobjikha is reported to be increasing every year, while visits to the rest of the wintering habitats across the country is believed on the decrease each year.