Critically endangered heron spotted in Kamlang

By A O News Service

ITANAGAR, Apr 28: A search for tigers caught the critically endangered white-bellied heron for the first time on camera in a classic example of chance.

A rare white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) has been captured in a camera trap photo at Kamlang tiger reserve at Wakro of Lohit district in Arunachal Pradesh. The camera was originally set up for All India Tiger Estimation 2018.

The heron was a lone adult captured in a series of camera trap photos on the bank of the Tawa at 12.20pm on March 14.

“This is the first camera trap picture of this species. The species was spotted by Zoological Survey of India at Namdhapa in 2014,” according to field biologist of tiger reserve Taru Habung.

Also known as the imperial heron, the white-bellied heron is a critically endangered species with less than 250 mature individuals. At 1.27-metre in height, it is the world’s second largest heron, exceeded only by the Goliath heron.

Globally, this species is known to exist with 50-249 mature individuals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2018, and currently distributed in Bhutan, India and Myanmar. The IUCN has also reported the extinction of this species in Nepal.

“This is a very rare species and not much study has been done on this. In Arunachal, it was only recorded in Namdapha but now we have it in Kamlang too,” Habung said.

“This finding has only been possible due to the dedication of the Special Tiger Protection Force (SPTF) personnel who are the real heroes,” he added.

“The exercise was done under the guidance of tiger reserve DFO Koj Tassar and supervision of range forest officer Kelsang Dechen. Both of them expressed joy at finding such a rare species and congratulated all staffs of the reserve and lauded works of STPF,” he said.

“This incident shows that camera trap can be used as an observation tool in very inaccessible geographical terrain, as in the Kamlang tiger reserve,” he added.

Rare Bugun liocichla found in EWS

SINGCHUNG: “Follow the rustling in the bushes,” whispers Phurpa Tsering, tiptoeing aside. I hear a brief low-pitched call. A bird, larger than a sparrow but smaller than a pigeon, stirs in the branches before diving deeper into another bush in the ravine. Its partner trails behind, revealing a fleeting glimpse of the bird’s famed olive-gray body and black cap, as reported by Shreya Dasgupta/Mongabay on 29.12.18.

Tsering, a self-taught and highly sought-after local bird guide in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary (EWS), a protected area in India’s northeastern-most state of Arunachal Pradesh, had pointed me to an extremely rare bird. The Bugun liocichla, or Liocichla bugunorum, is a critically endangered species, with only 14 to 20 individuals believed to exist in the world. Nearly all of the birds live within a tiny area just outside the sanctuary – with one pair having been spotted inside the sanctuary several years ago – sharing their home, and name, with a local indigenous tribe.

The Buguns, sometimes known as the Khowa, are clearly proud of the Bugun liocichla: it was one of the first bird species to be discovered in India since 1947 and it lives only on Buguns’ community lands.

“Lots of researchers name species after someone else’s name, but we were very happy that the bird was named after the tribe,” says Indi Glow, the Bugun head of a bird tourism enterprise close to the sanctuary.

Formally described in 2006, the bird brought fame to the small tribe of around 1,500 Buguns. India even launched a 25-rupee postage stamp, a face value of about 30 U.S. cents, featuring the Bugun liocichla in 2012.

In January 1995, Ramana Athreya, then a professional astronomer doing his PhD, was accompanying his wife, a wildlife biologist doing research in Arunachal Pradesh, during a month-long vacation. An avid birdwatcher, Athreya was eager to explore the state while he was on holiday, and some forest officers pointed him to the recently set up EWS. In 2006, Athreya accomplished a feat he’d been trying to achieve since his first trip to EWS in 1995: He netted the same species of bird he’d seen but failed to identify in 1995. Using photographs of the captured bird, a few feathers, and calls recorded over the past few years, Athreya formally described it as a new species, the Bugun liocichla, the same year.

More importantly, the bird’s discovery kick-started a cascade of conservation activities, culminating in the declaration of a brand-new community reserve in 2017, one that is already winning awards. (Bangalore-based Shreya, a science & environmental writer, is a former wildlife researcher and writes about animals, conservation, biology, people and places. Her work has appeared in BBC Earth, New Scientist, Ensia, The Scientist, The Guardian and others)

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