07 December 2012

Bhutan and San Diego Zoo Safari Park Saving the White-Bellied Heron

Rebecca Pradhan
Did you know there are only 26 White-Bellied Herons left in Bhutan?

I was recently visiting Bhutan again in November 2012 for Global Health Research Foundation mobile health meetings, and I was introduced to Bhutan Environmentalist Rebecca Pradhan by Bhutan Environmental Leader Dasho Paljor Jigmie Dorji whom I interviewed in this July 2012 article.

Rebecca informed me about the critical situation the White-Bellied Herons are facing. I was then introduced to Donald Sterner, Animal Care Manager Birds and Michael Mace, Curator of Birds San Diego Zoo Safari Park who were visiting Bhutan developing a plan for future collaboration with the Bhutanese at various levels.

Don shared more information with me on this critical situation from his August 2012 ZOONOOZ article 'Saving the White-Bellied Heron in Bhutan' co-written with his colleague Debbie Marlow, Lead Keeper.
Per Don and Debbie, the world count of White-Bellied Herons is estimated at 50-200, with birds in Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and possibly Tibet. The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) which Dasho Paljor Jigmie Dorji founded btw, is the only group doing research on the herons. Unfortunately, India is building 5 hydropower dams in one of the river systems that's critical to the heron.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park was asked to help save the heron and George Archibald Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and Michael Mace developed a captive-breeding program. As a result of a great deal of hard work, patience, and love for these birds, on May 5, 2011, a White-Bellied Heron Chick started hatching in Bhutan. Due to no refrigeration available to hold pre-caught fish, the Staff were catching up to 45 fish a day to feed the chick! The bird was released into the wild September 17 and is still seen flying in the area.

Don says: "We are developing a plan for future collaboration with the Bhutanese at various levels, as well as other institutions around the world for funding and technical support. We are also trying to get the word out about the plight of this bird, one of the world's rarest, and certainly the rarest of heron species. In broad terms we feel there still needs to be more research done on the bird, and that will be supported at some point by some sort of captive program to increase the population."

Please Share this Article with your friends and colleagues including people who can help. Thank You. The Royal Society for Protection of Nature Donation Form is here as well for reference.