|Scientific Name:||Ardea insignis|
|Species Authority:||Hume, 1878|
|Red List Category & Criteria:||Critically Endangered C2a(i) ver 3.1|
|Reviewer/s:||Butchart, S. & Symes, A.|
|Contributor/s:||Bishop, K., Choudhury, A., Crosby, M., Duckworth, W., Eames, J., Feijen, C., Lascelles, B., Pradhan, R., Tordoff, J., Tshewang, N. & Wilson, D.|
This heron is classified as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small and rapidly declining population. This decline is projected to increase in the near future as a result of the loss and degradation of lowland forest and wetlands, and through direct exploitation and disturbance.
|Range Description:||Ardea insignis is known from the eastern Himalayan foothills in Bhutan and north-east India to the hills of Bangladesh, north Myanmar and, historically at least, across west and central Myanmar (BirdLife International 2001). It may also occur in south-east Tibet, China, but is now extinct in Nepal. Birds visit the Brahmaputra lowlands in winter. Although historical reports suggest it was previously common in Myanmar, it has evidently declined throughout its range given the paucity of recent records. Most of the few recent records come from five or six sites in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, India, one or two sites in Bhutan, and parts of Myanmar. In Bhutan, there is a small population of 30 known individuals (with six juveniles) as of July 2007 (Pradhan 2007), with the total national population unlikely to exceed 50 individuals (Pradhan et al. 2007). The birds were observed along the Phochu, confluence of Phochu-Mochu, Punatsangchhu, Kamechu (Digchu), Zawa, Ngagshina and Burichu confluence (Pradhan 2007). Six active nests were recorded in Bhutan in 2007, two from a new site, and by 26 July 2007 they held six chicks in total. Due to the natural forest fire, three nests were abandoned. A further three active nests with five chicks were recorded in 2009, although only three chicks remained on a subsequent visit (Anon 2009). Six breeding sites from two rivers of central Bhutan have been recorded, and the eastern part of the country has not been thoroughly surveyed (Pradhan 2007). The species has also been reported from the Thim Chhu, Lungtenphu (C. Feijen in litt. 2009). A massive hydroelectric scheme may have recently caused its expiration from the Sunkosh Valley (K. D. Bishop in litt. 2012). In Myanmar, the 21,700 km2 Hukaung Valley tiger reserve (the largest area of suitable habitat within the species's range) is believed to support approximately 30-40 individuals (W. Duckworth in litt. 2006), and Hpon Razi Wildlife Sanctuary and Hkakabo Razi National Park hold small populations. White-bellied Heron has been recorded along rivers elsewhere in Kachin State, such as the Nam Sam Chaung, although little is known about its status in these areas (A. W. Tordoff in litt. 2006). Despite an increase in survey effort within the species's range in Myanmar there has been no corresponding increase in the number of records and the species was apparently absent from large areas of suitable habitat (J. Eames in litt. 2006, D. Wilson in litt. 2006). One recent repeat survey failed to record the species in an area where it had been seen in 1998 (D. Wilson in litt. 2006). The findings of field surveys have also been supported by reports from local people which suggest that the species has declined in the region in recent years (D. Wilson in litt. 2006). This evidence suggests there may be fewer than 250 individuals remaining(J. Eames in litt. 2006, D. Wilson in litt. 2006). In north-east India, a few individuals are regularly seen in Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh. However, records from other sites are sporadic and there are no recent sightings from a number of former sites including Jamjing Reserved Forest, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary (A. Choudhury in litt. 2012). The most recent sighting in Assam was of two birds from Subankhata Reserved Forest, Baksa district in 2010 (A. Choudhury in litt. 2012).|
Native:Bhutan; India; Myanmar
|Range Map:||Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.|
|Population:||Though a complete population census is yet to be conducted, the current population size is though to be best placed in the band 50-249 mature individuals (D. Wilson and J. Eames in litt. 2006). This equates to 75-374 individuals in total, rounded here to 70-400 individuals.|
|Habitat and Ecology:||It is primarily recorded from small or large rivers, usually with sand or gravel bars, often within or adjacent to subtropical broadleaved forest, from the lowlands up to at least 1,500 m, and it has also been reported from an inland lake (A. W. Tordoff in litt. 2006). It is generally solitary but may aggregate into small flocks and family groups during winter (D. Wilson in litt. 2006, Pradhan 2007) and tends to frequent inaccessible and undisturbed areas. The species is known to breed and roost in Chir pine forest (A. W. Tordoff in litt. 2006, D. Wilson in litt. 2006); four nests located in Bhutan in 2003-2007 were solitary and located in large Chir pines on ridges or steep slopes at 500-1,500 m, near the confluence of a small forest stream with a larger river (Pradhan 2007, Pradhan et al. 2007). Nesting took place in March-early June. Birds then moved up to 30 km to feed on sand bars in large braided river systems in winter (Pradhan 2007, Pradhan et al. 2007).|
|Major Threat(s):||The main threats are presumed to be widespread loss, degradation and disturbance of forest and wetlands. Wetlands have become degraded as a result of pollution, rapid growth of aquatic vegetation, and the over-exploitation of resources. Increasing disturbance and habitat degradation from settlement, conversion to agriculture, harvesting of wetland resources and, more locally, poaching are thought to present significant threats in key protected areas (e.g. Namdapha National Park) in north-east India, Bhutan and Myanmar (W. Duckworth in litt. 2006). Natural forest fires have destroyed nests in Bhutan. In Bhutan, hydroelectric power developments and road improvements have resulted in significant habitat degradation. Rivers act as busy transport routes for the human population, exacerbating disturbance of this species (W. Duckworth in litt. 2006, D. Wilson in litt. 2006).|
Conservation Actions Underway
It probably breeds in Namdapha Tiger Reserve (last surveyed in 2005-2006) (Maheswaran 2007) and it occurs seasonally in several other protected areas, including Kaziranga, Dibru-Saikhowa and Manas National Parks, and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, India. In Myanmar, a small population occurs within the Hukaung Tiger Reserve (A. W. Tordoff in litt. 2006), and Hpon Razi Wildlife Sanctuary. A project studying White-bellied Heron began in Bhutan in 2003, and is run in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature, the World Wildlife Fund, the Felburn Foundation and the International Crane Foundation. Recognising the importance of the riverbed in Punakha-Wangdue as a primary feeding ground for this species, the Royal Government of Bhutan has declared the area as protected habitat for White-bellied Herons. In May 2011, a White-bellied Heron was hatched in captivity for the first time (Tshewang Norbu in litt. 2011), and in September 2011 it was released at Bumitsawa, Pochu, Punakha, in Bhutan, having been already tagged with a satellite transmitter (www.rspnbhutan.org).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct extensive surveys for the species in north-east India, Myanmar and also south-east Tibet, to establish its distribution, population status and ecological requirements, particularly in breeding areas. Support proposals to provide more effective protection for Namdapha National Park, including creation of buffer zones. Support requests to maintain habitat and minimise disturbance along the Manas river and around Ada lake, Bhutan. Initiate conservation awareness programmes in areas supporting populations, particularly in Myanmar and north-east India, using it as a flagship species. Consider satellite tagging individuals to improve current understanding of the species's movements and habitat preferences (J. Eames in litt. 2006). Improve conservation of protected areas in Myanmar.
|Citation:||BirdLife International 2012. Ardea insignis. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 20 June 2013.|
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