Captive-rearing of White-bellied heron hatches a chick

Four-day old White-bellied heron chick, weighed 59.7 grams (Photo: RSPN)

May 11, 2011 – The White-bellied heron is a critically endangered species as per the IUCN’s category (2007). With the current global population estimated to be less than 200 of which Bhutan has 26 numbers, it is of a great conservation significance to Bhutan to embark on saving the bird.

The ongoing white-bellied heron conservation project is conducting a research on captive-breeding of the bird at Phochu in Punakha. To begin with, RSPN in collaboration with Department of Livestock and Department of Forests and Park Services under Ministry of Agriculture and Forests have undertaken a captive-rearing of the bird to address the high mortality rates at its infant period due to predation and other calamities such as forest fires.  Such program is first of its kind in the world for white-bellied heron.

On 7th May 2011 at around 5:50 AM, a chick was hatched successfully in its hatchery house in Phochu in Punakha. At the hatching time, it weighed 54.9 grams. The picture shown above is a chick which is 4 days old weighing 59.7 grams.

At the time of writing this report, it was 5 days old and it weighed 76.7 grams. The officials at the hatchery say that the chick is very active and feeding well. It is fed twice a day and consumes about 13 fishes which are 3cm-5cm long.

With the expertise in rearing of other similar heron species and bird species, we have sought assistance from San Diego Zoo Safari Park in the USA in the form of expertise of Donald J. Sterner and Debra Keiko Marlow, who are experts in such field. San Diego Zoo Safari is well known for recovery of similar kind of endangered species.

After successful rearing of the bird, it will be released. This program is aimed in recovering the rapidly declining population of White-bellied heron in the world.

Adult white-bellied heron in Basochu, Wangdiphodrang (file picture, courtesy of Yeshey Dorji)

RSPN will continue to collaborate with the project partners for success of the recovery of the species population.

Captive-breeding of White-bellied heron is also one of the strategic measures to mitigate the impacts of Punatshangchu hydro power project.The project hopes to fulfill the “middle path” development policy of the Royal Government where it takes into consideration in conserving the diverse ecology in developmental activities. The project is funded by Punatshangchu Hydropower Project Authority. The other donors for the project include Felburn Foundation, WWF Bhutan Program and Whitley Fund. The technical support is being provided by San Diego Zoo Safari.