Construction of White-bellied Heron Captive Breeding Facility Center begins
The Groundbreaking ceremony for the White-bellied Heron (WBH) Captive Breeding Facility Center was held from 11 am on January 27, 2017 at Changchay Dovan, Tsirang Dzongkhag. The event was graced by the Hon’ble Speaker, Lyonpo Jigme Zangpo as the guest of honor, members of parliament, dignitaries from government agencies, and Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project Authority. During the event, a WBH music video dedicated to the first birth anniversary of His Royal Highness, Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck was also launched.
It marked an important milestone in the conservation of the WBH, one of the 50 rarest birds of the world and most threatened avian species in Asia. WBH was first spotted in Bhutan by His Majesty the Fourth King in 1976 and under his Majesty’s command, the conservation and protection was carried forward by Royal Society for Protection of Nature. Today, Bhutan harbors 28 individuals, which is the highest count amongst the WBH habitat range countries in the world. The numbers are still worryingly low.
Considering the current population status, survival rate, distribution and threats arising out of changing environment, establishment of a safe and reliable ex-situ gene pool through captive breeding for WBH has become necessary. It is perhaps the most urgent of needs that shall enable the continuation of research and conservation programs. In 2011, Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) initiated captive rearing for the first time in the world funded by PHPA I. One chick, hatched and reared in captivity was successfully released in the wild. With that experience, RSPN has initiated establishment of permanent WBH captive breeding facility center.
The center is being established through multiple donors and will be completed by 2018 with captive breeding program expected to begin by 2019. Royal Government of Bhutan supported the allocation of 18.224 acres of land and the Punatsangchu Hydroelectric Project Authority I&II (PHPA I&II) is supporting the construction of infrastructure for the center. Further, MAVA Foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland supported WBH endowment fund of USD 1.5 million to meet the operation cost of the Captive Breeding Facility.
The conservation of WBH is collaborative effort of RSPN and DoFPS. The efforts are also supported by national and international organizations; WWF Bhutan Program, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, Synchronicity Earth, Felburn Foundation, International Crane Foundation, The GEF Small Grants Program, Bhutan Foundation, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and Whitely Fund for Nature.