Dr.Khurshid A. Tariq
Black-Necked Crane (BNC) or Grusnigricollis is also called as Alpine Crane is endemic to Himalayan region including parts of India, China, Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. It is the state bird of Jammu Kashmir and is a great attraction for birders and tourists.
It breeds during late spring and summer in high altitude wetlands, marshes and lakes of Tibetan Plateau (Parts of Ladakh, the Lake Koko Nor Region in Tsinghai/Qinghai of Tibet, Xinjiang, Gansu, Sichuan (China) and also in few places of Nepal.
Its present day estimated population is only 10,070-10,970 globally, however, their exact population is not known in Ladakh.
The BNC is known for its altitudinal migration between higher and lower elevations of eastern Himalayas. In autumn, BNC spends most of the time in foraging and storing extra energy in preparation for migration.
During winters, they descend to lower altitudes and feed on the leftovers in paddy fields. The major wintering areas of BNC include Tsokar, Puga, Staklung, Hanle and Chusul wetlands of eastern Ladakh; Sangti and Zimithang valleys of Arunachal Pradesh; parts of Sikkim in India; parts of Tibet; Yunnan and Guizhou regions of China; Phobjika and Bomdaling valley of Bhutan.
The BNC are quite social and forage in small groups by walking in wetlands, shallow streams, marshes and pastures.
They are known to produce very impressive, high pitched, penetrating and trumpeting calls during their visit to feeding areas.
They have a strong social, cultural and religious importance in India, China, Bhutan and Tibet. The BNC has particularly great cultural significance in Bhutan, where Crane festivals are held annually in the month of November to celebrate the arrival of BNC from Tibet for overwintering.
The BNC is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2009) due to habitat alteration and degradation related to climate change, changes in agriculture practices, industrialization, pollution, environmental contamination and indiscriminate poaching.
It is listed in Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. 1972 and J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act. 1978. It is also listed in appendix-I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of wild animals and is also in the appendix of the convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species. Therefore, BNC has assumed much of the importance worldwide.
The BNC has restricted range and population in India, therefore, it has been included in the “Species Recovery Programme” of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, government of India.
The threats to BNC have been classified into four major categories, viz. biological (loss of habitat, predators, food shortage and competition from other animals), social (hunting, trapping, killing), political (international conflicts, lack of well-defined law and policies) and natural (mortality, diseases, calamities) threats.
Of the four major threats, the biological threat (mainly loss and alteration of their habitat) is of major concern, because, the human pressure on the wetlands has increased to a large extent over the last few decades.
Similarly, the increased grazing pressure on the limited pastures adjacent the wetlands is also responsible for the degradation of their habitat.
The use of various pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture has further created problems for their survival. Besides, the unregulated tourism and climate change are other severe emerging threats to BNC.
However, another major threat to their survival has emerged in the form of feral dogs owned both by local nomads as well as armed forces which damage their eggs and chicks in Ladakh.
Common Ravens (Khata in Ladakh) are also of significant importance as their nest predators in Ladakh. Leopards also have been documented of great threat to adult and young cranes during wintering in Ladakh.
WWF-India, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Bombay Natural History Society and Indian Bird conservation Network are doing every possible measure for conservation of BNC in collaboration with Bhutan, Tibet and China.
The WWF-India provides support for the protection and restoration of key wetlands and other habitats to safeguard and conserve BNC. Similarly, the WWF-India in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Protection, J&K State, has been working towards conservation of high altitude wetlands in Ladakh region to preserve this species on priority basis.
Coordinated surveys with emphasis on ecological and behavioural studies will help in the effective management, improvement and protection of their habitats.
A comprehensive crane conservation plan with minimum scope of poaching and encouraged farming in their foraging areas to ensure continuous food supply will prove quite effective measure.
Author is anAssistant Professor of Zoology at Islamia College, Srinagar