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Breeding ecology and conservation of the Black-necked Crane in Ladakh

Breeding ecology and conservation of the Black-necked Crane in Ladakh

 Otto Pfister

The rare Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, the least known of all the crane species, breeds in a limited number in the sparse wetlands of the remote high altitude desert of far eastern Ladakh. In addition to two 'pre-surveys' in June-July 1995 and 1996, an uninterrupted summer study had been conducted from end of May to mid-October 1997 to observe and record the breeding ecology, general behaviour patterns and conservation potential of this endangered crane species. Access was granted to parts of the crane breeding grounds located within the areas of Rupchu and Changtang, south of the Indus river in 1995 and 1997, plus southern parts of Pagong-Tso in 1996.

The 1997 study discovered 38 Black-necked Cranes within its known Ladakh distribution limits: 12 breeding pairs and 14 non-breeding birds, the highest number ever observed within the crane's most western distribution limit. 12 nests were found, they contained two eggs each producing 13 hatchlings; 11 eggs were destroyed or non-viable. Four chicks were killed, the surviving 9 juveniles fledged by end of September-early October except one chick which hatched late and did not fly before the study terminated by mid-October.

Dogs were identified as causing the biggest immediate threat to the successful reproduction of cranes in Ladakh. The considerable ignorance of the nomadic local human population towards environment conservation, the diversion of rivers for irrigation and overgrazing of pasture land caused by the pressure of increasing domestic livestock will, in the near future, ultimately alter or even destroy the wetlands and deprive the cranes of their foraging and breeding grounds.

The study concludes with the proposal of culling semi-feral dogs, creating conservation awareness amongst the local people and including wildlife protection in the local school syllabus. Legally the crane should be included with the Schedule I species in the Jammu & Kashmir State Wildlife Act.

Contact: Otto Pfister, Transversal 1 Este #57-42, Bogota D.C., Colombia.

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