Black-necked Crane Conservation

The Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) is the last discovered of 15 species of cranes in the world. This majestic bird is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau and migrates to lower altitudes, including several areas of Bhutan, in autumn. In Phojikha Valley, one of the major habitats in Bhutan, the arrival of the cranes signals the end of the harvesting season. The Black-necked Cranes have a sacred identify in Bhutanese culture and often appear in folklore, dances, and historical texts.

Since 1987, RSPN has been working to protect and rebuild the population of the Black-necked Cranes.

Project Area

Phobjikha is a wide glacial valley with a central stream meandering through the open grassland and thickets of dwarf bamboo. Farmlands occupy the peripheral slopes where potatoes and turnips are grown. The forests beyond the farms are mostly coniferous. The general vegetation is composed of mainly blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), birch (Betula utilis), maple (Acer spp.) and several species of rhododendrons. The Central Valley inhabited by the cranes in winter has mostly dwarf bamboo. The repeated grazing of the bamboos by the local cattle and horses in summer prepares the ground for the wintering Cranes. The magnificent Black-necked Cranes heighten the breathtaking scenery of Phobjikha in winter respiratory.

  • Physical geography & climate Elevation: 2,900 m a s l
  • Size: 161.9 km2
  • Population: 4,716
  • Economy: Agriculture based
  • Lowest mean temperature: – 4.8oC in December
  • Maximum mean temperature: 19.9o C in August.
  • Annual rainfall: 1, 472 to 2,189 mm annually.

Goals and Objectives

RSPN aims to continue conservation efforts and habitat protection for the Black-necked Cranes by achieving the following:

  • Carry out reclamation, inventories and establish monitoring systems to enhance Phobjikha wetland ecosystem.
  • Assess the carrying capacity of Phobjikha valley.
  • Initiate mitigation measures for environmentally detrimental plans and activities.
  • Identify scheduled species and habitats using biodiversity surveys and IUCN guidelines.
  • Map the threats for identified species.
  • Design suitable mitigation measures.

Activities

Phobjikha under Wangdue is the largest wetland in Bhutan and also the largest roosting ground for the black-necked Cranes. Through a biodiversity survey, RSPN found 121 species of birds, 50 species of trees, and a large number of mammal species. The area is dominated by fir, spruce, and pine, and lies in the alpine wetland and temperate zone.

To support parallel economic development and conservation, RSPN initiated the Integrated Conservation and Development Program (ICDP) in 1999 with financial grants from the MacArthur Foundation, USA.The main goal of this program is to meet the aspirations of the local communities as well as to conserve the ecological significance of the area.

Project Partners

  • Department of Forests and Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests
  • Department of Livestock
  • Ministry of Education
  • Gewog Administration
  • Dzongkhag Administration, Wangduephodrang, Bumthang and Trashiyantse
  • Local communities
  • National Environment Commission
  • Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research

  • Issues to be Addressed

To date, studies have not been conducted on the crane’s habitat in Phobjika Valley. To address this gap, RSPN will work on enhancing wetland management to maintain its coverage and quality through an in-depth study of its ecological and geological composition, assessing the impacts of human activities on the wetland in terms of both quality and coverage. Additionally, the relationship between climate change and the wetland over time needs to be assessed.