About the project
The research and conservation project on Black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis) in Bhutan was initialised in 2018 under collaboration of NABU International, Crane Conservation Germany (CCG) and the Bhutanese ´Royal Society for the Protection of Nature‘ (RSPN). One of the main research topics is the analysis of land use and migration routes of the cranes via GPS tags. At the end of the project in 2022 a concept for the conservation of this species, which would serve as a basis for an international agreement (Convention on Migratory Species), will be developed.
Black-necked cranes spend the winter season mainly in China, but also in Bhutan and India. The majority of their breeding places are located in the Tibetan part of China. Therefore, they need to cross the Himalaya mountains to reach their overwintering sites in Bhutan. Currently, there are just about 10,000 to 12,000 Black-necked cranes in the World. Therefore, their status is categorised as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Nature Conservation). In comparison to the Eurasian crane (Grus grus) they are described as being smaller in size and weight by the International Crane Foundation. Typical traits in their appearance are bright feathers, black colouring on their neck and a yellow colouring of their iris.
Field research in Bhutan commenced already in early 2019. The research team of Crane Conservation Germany, consisting of two people, and RSPN staff travelled to Phobijka valley, which is situated at an altitude of about 2,900 m. This valley is the main destination of Black-necked cranes for wintering in Bhutan. The population was determined via synchronous counting at roost sites (population size) as well as mapping the surrounding areas in the valley (population structure). In total, there were 422 cranes in the valley at that time. These numbers seem stable when looking at the previous years. Reproduction seems normal with juveniles making up 10% of the population.
Nevertheless, potential risks for the wintering of Black-necked cranes could be identified during the field trip. For instance, there is ongoing construction work for tourism, which borders the roost areas. In addition to that, structural change in the region regarding agriculture could result in a decrease in available food for the cranes as younger generations are moving away and do not continue farming of their parents. Furthermore, disturbances could also be caused by relatively high numbers of wild dogs outside of the villages, which would negatively influence smaller roost sites.
Apart from crane monitoring, Crane Conservation Germany also had a supporting role in the application of rings and tags. Furthermore, they organised a workshop on the assessment of GPS data for the team of the RSPN, which took place in the crane centre of the RSPN, which is located in the valley. In the beginning of 2020, a second field trip took place. In total, six cranes from Phobijka valley and three cranes from Bumdeling valley were tagged. The analysis of the GPS data will be finished in 2022.
We would like to thank the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety for supporting this project (BMU project reference number: N I 3 - 70122-1/46). Furthermore, we thank our colleagues from the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature and especially Mr. Jigme Thering, who is the person responsible for this project at the RSPN, and also NABU International and especially Mr. Nils Horstmeyer, the head of this project. Lastly, we thank the Ugyuen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research (UCWER) and especially Mr. Sherub for a good cooperation.