Our work to conserve the White-Bellied Heron is part of our Asian Species Programme, which aims to conserve some of Asia’s most threatened species. An important component of this work is the development of a captive breeding centre for these majestic but Critically Endangered birds.
Gemma Goodman-Hattie, Co-Head of Programmes, visited Bhutan to advise on the new centre’s development.
Our aim is to conserve one of the most threatened bird species in the wild. An important component of the this work is the development of a captive breeding centre for these majestic but Critically Endangered birds. There are currently no White-bellied Heron in captivity, meaning that if it becomes extinct in the wild, due to a plethora of increasing threats, then it will be lost forever. The captive breeding centre aims to safeguard the future of the species by securing an ex-situ breeding population, educate and involve local communities and tourists, help to eventually re-stock declining populations in the wild and to better understand its ecological needs so that threats in-situ can be better addressed.
The IUCN SSC White-bellied Heron Working Group is hosted by Synchronicity Earth which means we act as a central hub to coordinate action, secure funding and help to build capacity across the species range states – including Bhutan, India, Myanmar and possibly China (where we are helping fund work to identify its presence or absence).
Last year we helped provide training to two Bhutanese staff in the handling and rearing of large waterbirds, similar to the White-bellied Heron. Prague, Zlin Zoo and the EAZA Ciconiiformes/Phoenicopteriformes Taxon Advisory Committee Chair provided bespoke training to a member of staff from RSPN and the architect charged with designing the breeding centre (who until now, had no similar experience).
In November 2017, one of our staff (and Coordinator of the Working Group) visited Bhutan to take part in the Captive Breeding Advisory Committee meeting and field visit to advise RSPN on the construction and functioning of the captive breeding centre. The Committee visited the site where the centre is now being built, and was able to see many components of RSPN’s work (community engagement/monitoring, involvement of forest officials, education programmes, fish ponds and survey areas).
We will ensure long-term engagement in the captive breeding centre and all components of the species conservation within Bhutan and beyond. We are working with RSPN in Bhutan by arranging and funding further bird handling and rearing training, assisting and advising on in-situ monitoring and survey work and helping with satellite transmitter tagging of wild chicks. For more information, contact WBHgemma@synchronicityearth.org.