Tendency of people to throw stones at any wild animal is also threatening the black necked cranes
The Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) and conservationists are now concerned about several cases where the famed black necked cranes were injured or killed by predators in Phobjikha valley.
In 2008, a total of nine cranes were found dead and in 2009-10 seven were found dead. Since 1987, RSPN has been working to protect and increase the population of the cranes as a result the number of cranes visiting Bhutan has increased.
One of the reasons for the several attacks on the cranes is due to the natural succession of marshy areas where the marshy areas become solid ground for predators to walk on. The cranes become an easy catch.
The only way for the cranes to know of a predator nearby was to have the marshy area with water pools so that the cranes could hear them coming.
“To keep away the predators we have to protect the marshy areas,” said an ecologist with RSPN, Rebecca Pradhan.
In 2010, one of the camera traps set up by RSPN captured a common leopard with a crane in its mouth. These photographic images confirmed the big cat as the elusive predator.
Another reason is the lack of awareness on the importance of the cranes. Rebecca Pradhan said that Bhutanese people tend to have the instinct of throwing stones at whatever wild animals they see.
Citing an example, she said that a black necked crane was left behind in Phobjikha due to injury. After the crane improved its health sometime during the summer it flew towards Punakha and landed there.
“After a while it flew to another place where it met its unfortunate fate. A few locals threw stones at the crane and they killed it,” said Rebeeca Pradhan.
Cranes that are left behind are also under the threat of predators and local people. These cranes are left behind mainly because they are either injured or too weak to make the long journey back to their summer breeding habitat.
The cranes are sometimes left injured due to the attacks by the predators and by local people. To respond to such situation, the RSPN is looking at treating the injured cranes at the site.
“In the past experiences we have found out that bringing cranes to Thimphu for treatment was not feasible because the stress level of the cranes increased,” said the conservation and development coordinator of RSPN, Rinchen Wangmo.
There have also been incidences where the cranes brought to Thimphu died due to increase in stress level and it was therefore important that the injured cranes were treated at the site.
RSPN in collaboration with the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre recently organized a one-day training on first aid treatment for injured cranes in Phobjikha.
The training focused on detecting injury or diseases of the cranes and handling methods during capture and medication. The trainees were also sensitized on different types of medicines for treatment, appropriate dosage of medicine for different kinds of injuries and proper way of cleaning wounds.
At the end of the training it was agreed that the concerned agency from the winter habitat of the cranes will keep in stock required medicines and closely collaborate with the livestock and health officials during treatment of the injured cranes.
The number of black naked cranes has increased from 285 in the winter of 1990-91 to 462 in 2009-10. As of today, the crane count for 2010-11 stands at 368.
The other winter habitats in Bhutan include Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse, Khotokha in Wangduephodrang and Choekhor and Thangbi in Bumthang.
The cranes usually spend over four months in major winter habitats in Bhutan and leave for their summer habitats in Tibet in mid-March.
The black-necked cranes arrive in Bhutan towards the last week of October during their breeding season, which also signals the end of harvesting season in Phobjikha valley and the time for the local farmers to move towards lower altitude where it is warmer.
The cranes fly back towards the end of March when the valley becomes warmer.