Community-led conservation of Critically Endangered White-bellied Heron in Bhutan
The White-bellied Heron, Ardea insignis, is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and BirdLife International, with an estimated global population of 200 individuals. The bird has been recorded only in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, northern Myanmar and Bhutan.
Rebecca Pradhan leads a team at the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature dedicated to conservation of the White-bellied Herons of Bhutan, one of the rarest bird species in the world. The team aims to increase local awareness of these birds through environmental education and mobilisation of the local community for conservation of the heron habitat. It aims to use indigenous knowledge and environmentally friendly practices by mobilising the local community in conservation as well as in initiating ecotourism for enhancement of the local economy.
Central to Rebecca’s work is collecting information about these birds to understand their needs and to gain a record of the current status and population of the White-bellied Heron through a comprehensive nationwide survey. Information on habitat selection and behaviour patterns is also being collected to inform future conservation policy. A key threat to herons and their habitat is the risk of incidental forest fires that destroy nests and hatchlings as well as the species’s preferred forest habitats. Local people are beginning to realise that by helping the herons, they are also benefiting themselves, as the forests preferred by the White-bellied Heron also provides essential ecosystem services, such as water, for local communities.