Satellite transmitters to make monitoring of White-bellied Herons more efficient

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Mounting satellite transmitters helps in obtaining crucial information and data components, which would ultimately help in developing a suitable plan to save the birds

Alka Katwal
from Thimphu

While on their trip to Burichu, Tsirang, the White-bellied Heron (WBH) research team from Royal Society of Protection of Nature (RSPN) as a trial, mounted satellite transmitter on two WBH chicks.
The satellite transmitter helps in understanding the movement and distribution of WBH more efficiently.
Senior ecologist, Rebecca Pradhan said the program is still in the planning phase and the team is yet to come up with the final plan.
Mounting satellite transmitters is one of the methods that would help in understanding distribution, mortality factors, life history and other crucial information and data components, which would ultimately help in developing a suitable plan to save WBH.
To initiate the tagging program aimed at understanding movement and mortality of the fledged chicks was one of the recommendations of an expert consultation held at the December 2015 International White-bellied Heron Conservation Workshop in Bhutan.
However, satellite tagging is expensive and a complex method, and the project could only be undertaken with the help of Synchronicity Earth, UK, WWF Bhutan Program Office, and Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTFEC). The RSPN team is yet to come up with the final budget for the overall program.
Rebecca Pradhan said that during the trip, the team had come across a WBH chick which had fallen off its nest and further got entangled in a thick bush. After observing the chick for several hours, the team felt that they should mount the transmitter on the chick to monitor its movement.
During this same time, the other restless chick in the nest suddenly flew out of the nest towards Burichu stream and did not return. However, the chick was also found the next day, perched on a small shrub beside the stream. The team rescued the chick and similarly mounted it with a satellite transmitter. With only 60 confirmed individuals throughout its range and an estimated world population of fewer than 250 individuals according to the IUCN Red List, WBH is one of Asia’s rarest birds. This bird species remains at a significant risk of extinction. Despite witnessing five to eight WBH chicks fledge annually, the numbers of these majestic birds have not increased.
With the tracking system installed on two WBH chicks, the team now can track their movements for the next three years, and gather essential data on these birds. The researchers believe that this perhaps could be the start of a new beginning for these birds; one that would ensure that their species survives.

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