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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Black-necked Crane

(Grus nigricollis)

by

Mary Anne Bishop


JPG-Black-necked Cranes

Subjects:
Summary
Subspecies/populations
Population Numbers and Trends
Conservation Status
Historic and Present Distribution
Distribution by Country
Habitat and Ecology
Principal Threats
Current Conservation Measures
Priority Conservation Measures

Summary

The world’s Black-necked Crane population is estimated at 5,600-6,000. The species’ breeding range includes much of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in China, with a small breeding population occurring in adjacent Ladakh in India. Six wintering subpopulations are identified. Wintering grounds include lower elevations of the Qinghai-Tibet and Yunnan-Guizhou Plateaus in China, with some birds also occurring in Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, India. Published records and local reports indicate that the species has declined in many breeding and wintering areas over the last seventy years, although the population seems to have stabilized since the 1970s. The species is classified as Vulnerable under the revised IUCN Red List Categories.

During the breeding season Black-necked Cranes use high altitude wetlands, nesting in grassy marshlands, sedge meadows, and marshes along the shores of lakes and streams, and foraging in shallow marshes, streams, and pastures. Their diet includes plant roots, tubers, snails, shrimp, small fish, and other small vertebrates and invertebrates. The cranes winter in lower elevation agricultural valleys, where they feed mainly on waste grains and other residue in fields and pastures. In both breeding and wintering areas, Black-necked Cranes are quite tolerant of local people, and regularly feed near human settlements and domestic livestock.

Loss and degradation of habitat are the main threats facing the Black-necked Crane. These problems are most serious in the wintering areas, where wetlands have been extensively affected by irrigation projects, dam construction, drainage and conversion to agriculture, river channelization, heavy grazing pressure, sedimentation, industrial pollution, and other factors. In Tibet, widespread changes in traditional agricultural practices have reduced the availability of waste barley and spring wheat, the main winter foods. Hunting has become an important threat in several wintering areas as a result of the introduction of firearms and greater access to formerly remote areas. Other factors, including egg collecting and predation by feral dogs, are significant threats in some locales.

Conservation measures for the species have expanded significantly since the late 1970s. These measures include: implementation of an integrated program of conservation and development at Cao Hai Lake, a key wintering area in Guizhou Province, China; establishment of key protected areas in China and Bhutan; regular population surveys in the main wintering areas; expanded field studies of the species’ distribution, habitat use, breeding biology, wintering ecology, and conservation status; support for conservation programs from national and international non-governmental organizations; and training programs for local conservation officials and reserve personnel. Local religious beliefs have also played a critical role in safeguarding the Black-necked Crane across much of its range.

Priority conservation measures for the species include: stronger efforts to control poaching; improved management of existing protected areas (especially Cao Hai Nature Reserve); establishment of protected areas in Yunnan and India; protection of wetlands (especially in wintering areas) against further deterioration and development; establishment of agricultural management areas in key wintering and breeding areas; regular, coordinated counts of the wintering subpopulations; banding and satellite radio studies of the main wintering subpopulations; studies of roosting habitats in Tibet, Yunnan, and Bhutan; development of education programs in schools and for the general public; and expanded training opportunities for nature reserve personnel.

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Subspecies/populations

There are no subspecies. There are six known wintering subpopulations: 1) northeast Yunnan and western Guizhou; 2) northwest Yunnan; 3) southcentral Tibet (from Lhaze east to Nedong); 4) eastern Tibet (near Gongbogyamda); 5) Bhutan; and 6) Arunachal Pradesh (India).

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Population Numbers and Trends

Wintering
Subpopulation
Number Trend Source
NE Yunnan/W Guizhou     1300-1600 Unknown Yunnan Env. Prot. Comm.
pers. comm. (1993),
Wu Z. pers. comm. (1993)
NW Yunnan <100 Stable to declining Wei et al. 1993, 1994
SC Tibet 3,900 Stable Bishop 1993a
E Tibet <20 Declining Bishop et al. in prep.
Bhutan 360 Stable RSPN 1993
Arunachal Pradesh <10 Declining Gole 1990, 1993b
Total 5600-6000     Stable but Vulnerable    

Coordinated counts were conducted annually from 1989 to 1993 on the wintering areas. The estimates here are based primarily on results obtained during the 1991-1992 winter count (Bishop 1993a). Some wintering subpopulations may not yet have been discovered. Additional wintering birds are most likely to be found in the more remote portions of Yunnan Province.

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Conservation Status

IUCN category     Vulnerable, under criteria
A1b,c,d   A2c   C1
CITES Appendix I

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Historic and Present Distribution

GIF-Distribution Map

The range of the Black-necked Crane stretches across the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau east to Cao Hai Lake on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. The species breeds at elevations of 2950-4900 m in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, from Ladakh (India) east to northern Sichuan Province. Within China breeding occurs in Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu, and Xinjiang Provinces. Breeding populations are widely distributed, with the largest and densest known concentrations at Longbaotan in southern Qinghai (Lu et al. 1980), the Ruoergai marsh in northern Sichuan (Li D. et al. 1991, D. A. Scott 1993), and Shenzha County in central Tibet (Feng 1989, Dwyer et al. 1992). The only known breeding populations outside of China are in India’s eastern Ladakh (<20 cranes) (Khacher 1981, Chacko 1992c, N. Kitchloo pers. comm.) and northern Sikkim (one pair) (U. Ganguli-Lachungpa pers. comm.). The loss of breeding populations is poorly documented, except at Lhasa in Tibet, where a few pairs formerly bred (Ludlow 1950).

Black-necked Cranes winter at lower altitudes (1900-3950 m) on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, in western central and northeastern Bhutan, and in northwest Arunachal Pradesh, India (Bishop 1993a). Very small numbers were recorded in Hadong Province in northern Vietnam earlier this century (Delacour 1927). The majority of Black-necked Cranes (approximately 4,000 birds) winter in southcentral Tibet in the Nyang, Lhasa, and Pengbo River valleys and along the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zsangbo (Bishop et al. in prep).

Although historical information on changes in the Black-necked Crane’s range is limited, the species has evidently declined in many portions of its breeding range over the past 40 years. Historical records indicate that a small population (<30 cranes) wintered at Apa Tani Valley in central Arunachal Pradesh, India, until sometime in the 1970s (Khacher 1981). Due to habitat loss, other small populations have disappeared or declined to <10 cranes in northwest Yunnan (Lasihai Marsh in Lijiang County, Luguhu Lake in Ninglang County, and Caohai Marsh in Heqing County) (Wei et al. 1993, 1994); in southeastern Tibet (Linzhi County) (Liu 1986, Bishop et al. in prep); and in Bhutan (Bumthang) (Bishop 1989b, Chacko 1992a, 1992b).

While population counts for most wintering areas do not exist prior to the early 1980s, local people have noted substantial declines in some areas. Cao Hai Lake in Guizhou was drained during the 1970s, and crane numbers dropped to 35 by 1975. With the restoration of the lake in the 1980s the numbers climbed to about 400 by 1994 (Harris 1994b). At Xundian in northeast Yunnan, local observers have noted a sharp decline since 1984 (How-man et al. 1994). Black-necked Cranes were common in Tibet’s Gyantse area in the 1920s; this population no longer exists (Ludlow 1928, Bishop et al. in prep.). Declines have also been reported by local people on the eastern Yarlung Zsangbo River and adjoining valleys between Gonggar and Nedong. In Bhutan, crane numbers at Bumdiling declined from 300 to <200 between 1974 and 1987 (D. P. Dorji unpubl. rept.).

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Distribution by Country

Bhutan W
China B, W
India B, W (rare)
Myanmar     W?
Vietnam X(w)
    
B = Present during breeding season
W = Present during winter
X = Extirpated: (w) as a wintering species

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Habitat and Ecology

JPG-Black-necked cranes with chicks, Ladakh, India

Black-necked Cranes breed in high altitude freshwater wetlands. Primary nesting areas are alpine grassy marshlands, small ponds in sedge bog meadows, lakeshore marshes, and riparian marshes along secondary channels or small streams (Li 1987). Nests are built on small, pre-existing grassy islands or in the water, and consist of mud, grass, sedges, and other aquatic plants. Depending on the area, cranes arrive on their breeding areas from late March through mid-May. Nesting densities as high as 2.2 pairs/km2 have been recorded in central Tibet (Dwyer et al. 1992). Eggs are laid as early as the first week in May through mid-June. In central and western Tibet the mean laying date is May 28, with renesting attempts recorded as late as July 13 (Dwyer et al. 1992). Usually two eggs are laid. The incubation period is 30-33 days (Li 1987), and chicks fledge at about 90 days.

Black-necked Cranes are tolerant of local people and often establish territories near small pastoral settlements. In central Tibet, cranes nest within 200-2000 m of fixed sources of disturbance (roads and dwellings) and are within view of human habitations or domestic animals (Dwyer et al. 1992). Nests in Sichuan, Qinghai, Tibet, and Ladakh, however, are typically located in areas of deep mud, making them inaccessible to people, livestock, and mammalian predators. Preferred foraging habitats include shallow marshes, lakeshore marshes, small streams, and upland pastures. Cranes forage on plant roots and tubers, insects, snails, shrimp, fish, frogs, lizards, and voles (Microtus brandtii).

Little is known about migration routes or staging areas. Based on limited banding studies, three migration routes have been suggested: 1) from northern Sichuan’s Ruoergai breeding area to Cao Hai Lake in Guizhou some 800 km south; 2) from Longbaotan Marsh, Yushu County, Qinghai to Napahai, northwest Yunnan some 700 km south; and 3) southeast Xinjiang, western Qinghai, and northern Tibet south or southeast to southcentral Tibet (Wu et al. 1993, 1994). For Black-necked Cranes migrating to and from eastern Bhutan, the Kuri Chu (River) is a principal migration route (Chacko 1992b). Black-necked Cranes have been noted staging in spring at Damxung, Tibet (Dwyer et al. 1992). In the fall, cranes have been observed staging at Shenza in northern Tibet (Gu and Canjue 1993) and at Litang in western Sichuan (Dolan 1939).

Black-necked Cranes arrive on their wintering grounds between mid-October and early December and remain until March through mid-April. The cranes winter in lower elevation agricultural valleys, foraging mainly in agricultural fields and native and cultivated pastures. In agricultural fields they forage on residue of the fall harvest. In southcentral Tibet, northwest Yunnan, and Bhutan the principal crops include barley, spring and winter wheat, and (in Arunachal Pradesh and northeast Bhutan) rice. In northeast Yunnan and western Guizhou the cranes forage on cultivated crops, including maize, oats, buckwheat, carrots, radishes, potatoes, and turnips. In addition, Black-necked Cranes feed on tubers, seeds, earthworms, beetles, and snails. Cranes roost on the shores of reservoirs and in the secondary channels of rivers both at mid-day and in the evening. In a few cases, small wetlands are used as roost sites.

In northeast Yunnan and western Guizhou, Black-necked Cranes often winter with large flocks of Eurasian Cranes. Small numbers (<30) of Eurasian Cranes have been documented wintering with Black-necked Cranes in southcentral Tibet (Bishop et al. in prep) and at Bumdiling, Bhutan (R. T. Chacko pers. comm.). In southcentral Tibet (and less often in northeast Yunnan-Western Guizhou) cranes are also often seen foraging and roosting near Bar-headed Geese and Ruddy Shelducks. Throughout their winter range, Black-necked Cranes forage near domestic livestock, including yak, horse, cows, sheep, goats, and donkeys.

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Principal Threats

JPG-Habitat degradation at Cao Hai Nature Reserve, China, wintering grounds

Loss and degradation of habitat due to increasing human population pressures are the principal threats to the species in its winter range and also in some breeding areas. Irrigation, dam construction, drainage, sedimentation, and conversion to agriculture have affected wetlands and shallow lakes in many wintering areas, but especially in Yunnan and Guizhou. In Heqing County (Yunnan) and at Cao Hai (Guizhou), wetlands have been converted to deep fishing ponds that cranes are unable to use (Wei et al. 1993, 1994; Li 1994). In southcentral Tibet and Bumthang in central Bhutan, roosting habitat has been lost and local crane populations have declined as a result of the channelization of rivers for irrigation and flood control, and the conversion of crane habitat to cropland and tree plantations (Bishop et al. in prep.). Proposed hydroelectric projects along the Lhasa River (Anon. 1993) may also pose a severe threat to this important wintering area in Tibet.

Heavy livestock pressure has resulted in the degradation of grasslands and drainage of wetlands for pastureland at wintering areas at Cao Hai Lake, at Phobjikha (Bhutan), and at breeding areas in northern Sichuan and Ladakh (Li and Ma 1989a, Chacko 1992c, Elliott et al. 1989, D. A. Scott 1993). In northeast Yunnan, local people are mining peat for fuel from marshlands and reservoirs (Wang et al. 1990, Huang 1990, Rank 1994). Deforestation at Cao Hai Lake and at some of the Yunnan wintering areas has led to high rates of soil erosion and siltation of wetlands (Elliott et al. 1989, Li F. and Li M. 1991, Rank 1994). In addition, industrial pollution within the Cao Hai Lake watershed in Guizhou has increased due to the recent construction of zinc furnaces (Rank 1992, Li 1994).

Black-necked Cranes have also been affected by changing agricultural practices in southcentral Tibet. These changes have reduced the availability of residue barley and spring wheat, two of the species’ principal winter foods. Whereas plowing traditionally took place in early spring, fall plowing is now mandated in some counties to control weeds and insects and to promote the warming of soil in the spring. As a result, waste barley and other surface residues have been reduced. At the same time, high-altitude varieties of winter wheat were introduced throughout southcentral Tibet beginning in the 1970s. Planted in late summer and harvested the following summer, winter wheat offers little surface food for the cranes (Bishop 1991). In Tibet, farmers using pesticides in the early spring have caused mortality in at least one wintering area (Gu and Canjue 1993).

Black-necked Cranes have been known to cause damage to crops (mainly potatoes, maize, and carrots) on wintering areas in northern and northeast Yunnan and at Cao Hai. In the Xundian area, crop depredation—and consequently the animosity towards cranes by Han and Yi farmers—is a recent phenomena and may reflect the loss of natural feeding habitat in local wetlands (How-man et al. 1994).

In some breeding areas, egg collecting, feral dogs, and intense grazing pressures are also important threats. In Xinjiang Province in western China, the Uighur nomads in the Altun Mountains Nature Reserve collect eggs from crane nests in early summer each year (Zhang 1992). Feral dog predation on eggs and chicks has severely affected small breeding populations in Ladakh (Chacko 1992c). Overgrazing by domestic livestock in marsh areas degrades breeding habitats and, together with the increased human presence, likely disturbs breeding cranes. International trade is not of concern due to strict controls within China and Bhutan.

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Current Conservation Measures

JPG-Winter habitat, Sangti Valley, India

Legal and Cultural Protection

Cultural traditions have played an important role in the protection of the Black-necked Crane. On both wintering and breeding areas where Buddhism prevails (Bhutan, Tibet, Ladakh, Qinghai, western Yunnan, and western Sichuan), religious beliefs prevent the hunting of wildlife. Black-necked Cranes are regarded as supernatural spirits throughout their range, and appear often in religious images and on temple walls. They are also regarded as a symbol of luck and happiness and are recorded or mentioned in many historical books (Bishop 1993b).

The species is now legally protected throughout its range. By law, hunting of Black-necked Cranes is banned in China, India, and Bhutan. In China, all cranes have been listed as nationally protected animals since 1990 (Fan et al. 1994). Anyone convicted of killing a crane is imprisoned. In parts of Tibet, high fines are issued for both illegal hunting and egg collection (Gu and Liu 1987). In northeast Yunnan, rewards are given to farmers who bring in sick cranes (J. Harris pers. comm.). In Qinghai, the Black-necked Crane has been declared the “Provincial Bird,” and special measures are taken for its protection (He 1990). It is also the symbol of Bhutan’s Royal Society for the Protection of Nature, a non-governmental conservation organization.

International Agreements and Cooperation

International cooperation has played a key role in promoting conservation efforts on behalf of the species. In particular, much of the research undertaken in China, India, and Bhutan since the mid-1980s has entailed cooperative efforts among conservationists and biologists from these countries as well as the United States. At Cao Hai, the Guizhou Environmental Protection Bureau, ICF, and the Trickle Up Program (a New York-based poverty alleviation organization) have collaborated since 1994 on a special watershed-scale conservation and community development program (Harris 1994b). The program involves four components: 1) community development; 2) scientific research and an experimental forestry project; 3) management of the Black-necked Cranes and the nature reserve; and 4) use of Geographical Informational Systems (GIS) in conservation planning (Li 1994). In support of these projects, two graduate students from China have undertaken studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.

Protected Areas

Most Black-necked Cranes nest outside protected areas. Within China, several nature reserves have breeding cranes: Longbaotan and Bird Island (Qinghai); Gahai, Ganhaizi, Big Suganhu and Small Suganhu (Gansu); Altun Mountain (Xinjiang); and Qomolangma (Tibet) (Ma and Li 1994). A special protected area has been proposed for breeding Black-necked Cranes in the Xiamen region of northern Sichuan (D. A. Scott 1993, J. Harris pers. comm.). The small (<20 birds) breeding population in Ladakh, India, occurs at the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary (Chacko 1992c, N. Kitchloo pers. comm.).

Since 1983, several protected areas have been established to protect wintering Black-necked Cranes. In Bhutan, the Royal Department of Forestry has designated roosting areas in the Phobjika and Bumdiling Valleys as protected areas (RSPN 1991). In China, protected wintering areas in Yunnan Province include: Huize (Changhaizi, Daqiao, and Huohing Reservoirs), Dashanbao (Dashanbao in Zhaotong County and Maolin and Wuzhai in Yongshan County), Napahai, and Bitahai Nature Reserves; the Cao Hai Nature Reserve in Guizhou Province; and the Pengbo Nature Reserve in Tibet. These Chinese reserves are managed by several provincial agencies, including the Forestry Bureaus and Environmental Protection Bureaus, as well as county and municipal governments. Only one wintering area is now protected in Tibet. ICF has proposed to the Ministry of Agriculture that special agricultural management zones for cranes be established (Bishop and Canjue 1993). In Yunnan, the Xundian wintering area has been recommended for protection (How-man et al. 1994).

Habitat Protection and Management

Protection of Black-necked Crane habitat outside of protected areas has increased in recent years. In Ladakh, army officials have issued extensive instructions to all units near the breeding areas to mark and protect such areas. In addition, mounted patrols have been organized to prevent visitors from entering breeding areas. Stray dogs are regularly removed and fishing in these areas has been prohibited. No grazing is permitted in the nesting areas from May to August (R. T. Chacko pers. comm.). In Sangti Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, a committee of local people, assisted by the State Wildlife Department and Indian Army, maintains watch over the cranes and their wintering habitat (Gole 1995). In Bhutan, tourists at Phobjikha are able to watch, under supervision and from a distant blind, the cranes at their winter roosting sites.

Surveys/Censuses/Monitoring

Counts and surveys (primarily in wintering areas) have provided much new information on Black-necked Crane numbers and distribution since the mid-1970s. In India, surveys were initiated after the species was rediscovered in 1976 (see discussion under “Research”). Scientists and conservationists in Bhutan have conducted surveys of Black-necked Cranes since 1976 (Khacher 1981; Clements and Bradbear 1986; Dorji 1987a, 1987b; Bishop 1989a, 1989b; Gaston 1989; Gole 1989c; Chacko 1992a, 1992b). Between 1980 and 1987, surveys of wintering cranes were conducted at Cao Hai Lake and in southcentral Tibet (Lu 1983, 1986; Gu and Liu 1987; Li et al. 1988). From the winter of 1988-89 through the winter of 1992-93, Black-necked Crane surveys were conducted in Bhutan and in the Chinese Provinces of Yunnan, Tibet, and Guizhou under the auspices of ICF (Bishop 1989a, 1991, 1993). Infrequent surveys have also been undertaken in Vietnam and Arunachal Pradesh, India. On their breeding grounds, general surveys for Black-necked Cranes have been conducted in Qinghai (Yao 1982, 1986), Sichuan (D. A. Scott 1993), and Tibet (Feng 1989, Dwyer et al. 1992).

Research

Prior to the late 1970s, little was known about the status and ecology of the Black-necked Crane. Since then, however, field studies in China, Bhutan, and India have provided new information critical to the conservation of the species.

Since in the early 1980s, Chinese scientists have studied the status and distribution of the species throughout its range. These studies have been carried out mainly by scientists from the Academia Sinica Institutes of Zoology in Beijing and Kunming, the Guizhou Academy of Sciences, the Northwest Plateau Institute of Biology, the Shaanxi Institute of Zoology, and the Tibetan Plateau Institute of Biology. Major wintering areas in northeast Yunnan at Dashanbao, Wuzhai, and Mashu were documented in the late 1980s (Huang 1990, Wang et al. 1990, Wei et al. 1994, J. Wang and X. P. Chen pers. comm.). In 1993, scientists from the Yunnan Geographic Institute located a previously unknown wintering population at Xundian, 120 km northeast of Kunming, Yunnan (How-man et al. 1994).

Studies of the behavior and ecology of wintering Black-necked Cranes have been undertaken, mainly at Cao Hai Nature Reserve (Zhou et al. 1980, Wu and Li 1985, Li and Li 1985, Li et al. 1988, Li and Ma 1989a, Wu Zhikang et al. 1991, Li and Ma 1992). Since the mid-1980s, field studies of breeding biology have been conducted at Longbaotan Nature Reserve in Qinghai Province and the Hongyuan-Ruoergai Plateau marshes in northern Sichuan (Li and Zhou 1985, Lu 1986, Wang et al. 1989, Li and Ma 1989b, Li et al. 1991).

Beginning in 1990, ICF and the Tibet Plateau Institute of Biology began a cooperative five-year study of Black-necked Cranes in Tibet. In 1991 a breeding survey was conducted primarily in northern Tibet (Dwyer et al. 1992). Extensive field research on the wintering grounds from the winter of 1990-91 through the winter of 1993-94 has determined the distribution, numbers, habitat utilization, and human-related pressures on Black-necked Cranes in southcentral Tibet (Bishop 1991, 1993; Gu and Canjue 1993; Bishop et al. in prep.). In December 1993 the first draft of a management plan for wintering Black-necked Cranes was completed and translated into Chinese (Bishop and Canjue 1993).

In Bhutan, field studies have begun to augment the information available from surveys (see above). During the winter of 1991-92, Chacko (1992a, 1992b) conducted an in-depth six-month study of Black-necked Cranes wintering in Bhutan. In addition to information on numbers and habitat use, he documented timing of migration, stopover sites, and a new migration route and roost sites along the Kuri Chu in Bhutan.

In India, research on Black-necked Cranes was stimulated by the rediscovery in 1976 of the small population of breeding Black-necked Cranes in Ladakh. Since then, several expeditions (in 1978, 1983, 1992, and 1994) have investigated the distribution, breeding ecology, and conservation status of this population (Gole 1981, 1993b; Khacher 1981; Hussain 1984, 1985; Chacko 1992c). Surveys for wintering Black-necked Cranes in Arunachal Pradesh in 1978 confirmed the disappearance of the flock at Apa Tani (Khacher 1981). Since 1990 Prakash Gole of India’s Ecological Society has surveyed several valleys west of Apa Tani for both cranes and suitable crane habitat. He discovered that during some years a small (<5) flock winters at Sangti (Gole 1990, 1993b, pers. comm.).

Non-governmental Organizations

Conservation activities involving the Black-necked Crane have been supported and coordinated by various non-governmental organizations. ICF has coordinated winter counts throughout the Black-necked Crane’s range (Bishop 1989a, 1989b, 1993). ICF has also sponsored cooperative field research in Tibet and at Cao Hai Nature Reserve. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s ICF arranged for technical exchanges, bringing together Black-necked Crane conservationists from Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Bhutan. The cooperative conservation projects at Cao Hai have been supported by ICF and the Trickle Up Program. Supporting organizations include the National Wildlife Federation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has assisted the Guizhou Environmental Protection Agency in managing the Cao Hai Nature Reserve by providing support for reserve administration and enforcement. WWF has also worked with government authorities in Sichuan to develop proposed management areas for cranes on the Hongyuan-Ruoergai breeding grounds. In cooperation with the Yunnan Geographic Institute, the China Exploration and Research Society (based in Hong Kong) initiated in November 1994 a conservation program at Xundian in Yunnan aimed at protecting wintering Black-necked Cranes. The program entails wetland restoration, public education, and design and development of a nature reserve (How-man et al. 1994).

In Bhutan, the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) and the Sherubtse College Nature and Trekking Club (Singekam) have been active in coordinating counts of wintering Black-necked Cranes. The WWF-United States Bhutan Program has supported the Black-necked Crane Cooperative Research Project of ICF and the Tibetan Plateau Institute of Biology, as well as conservation efforts in Bhutan. These projects have been supported by several other organizations, including the Chicago Zoological Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly the New York Zoological Society), the Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation, the GS Fund, WWF-Netherlands, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. WWF-United States is funding construction of Bhutan’s first Nature Research Centre at Kibethang near the Phobjika wintering grounds.

Education and Training

The administrative office of Cao Hai Nature Reserve at Weining contains an education center that is used by the public. Public education work at Cao Hai also includes limited extension work in the local markets. Education projects involving Black-necked Cranes have been undertaken by several NGOs as noted above. The China Exploration and Research Society has provided curriculum materials for schools in Xundian and Kunming (Yunnan), and has sponsored field trips by Kunming students to wintering areas in Xundian. Students in Arunachal Pradesh have been provided with slide shows and other educational materials, and are asked to record the arrival and departure of wintering Black-necked cranes. A conservation education center has been proposed for the Sangti Valley. International training for conservation officials and administrators, primarily from Guizhou, has been organized by ICF.

Captive Propagation and Reintroduction

Captive propagation and reintroduction programs have not been necessary for conservation purposes for the Black-necked Crane. The species breeds relatively easily in captivity. The crane GCAR (Mirande et al. in press a) estimate that between 77 and 94 Black-necked Cranes were in captivity in China as of 1993. Another 18 birds are in captivity at three other sites. An international studbook was published in 1991 (Zhao 1991). A limited founder base may pose problems to the population. Several of the captive pairs are breeding prolifically, with potentially deleterious impacts for the captive population, including higher inbreeding rates and reduced genetic diversity. Other wild-caught birds have not bred, and several birds are being housed singly. China strictly controls its captive Black-necked Crane population; international trade has been limited due to high prices.

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Priority Conservation Measures

Legal Protection
  1. Protect all wintering populations from poaching, with special emphasis in Xundian and Xuanwei Counties (Yunnan).

  2. Institute a reward system for reporting poaching incidents.

  3. Regulate the timing and use of pesticides and herbicides to prevent harm to cranes and other wildlife.

  4. Institute proper legal measures for water management in the breeding and wintering habitat.
Protected Areas
  1. Support and continue to strengthen cooperative efforts among the various Chinese government agencies that currently manage China’s wetland reserves.

  2. Improve the effectiveness of existing protected areas through the following actions:

  3. Improve management of the Cao Hai Nature Reserve in Guizhou through the following actions:

  4. Establish a protected area for wintering cranes at Sangti (Arunachal Pradesh).

  5. Strengthen protections for cranes at the recently established protected area at the Xundian wintering grounds in Northeast Yunnan.
Habitat Protection and Management
  1. Halt further deterioration, drainage, and conversion of wetlands for croplands, pastureland, or fish ponds, especially on wintering areas, and restore wetlands where necessary (especially at the Cao Hai, Xundian, and Dashanbao wintering areas).

  2. Establish agricultural management zones (rather than reserves) for wintering cranes in southcentral Tibet, and for the breeding population at the Ruoergai marshes in Sichuan. Land uses should be defined and management plans developed and implemented for these management zones.

  3. Prohibit new road construction and reduce grazing pressures near important roost sites.

  4. Provide incentives for farmers to practice sustainable farming methods that directly and indirectly benefit cranes (e.g., spring plowing).

  5. Discourage the use of barbed wire fences in areas used by cranes.

  6. Discourage tree planting along riparian roosting areas in southcentral Tibet.

  7. Minimize disturbance to cranes by tourists through construction of blinds and special trails (as has been done in Phobjikha, Bhutan).
Surveys/Censuses/Monitoring
  1. Conduct a coordinated winter count on all areas every three years to monitor trends in population.

  2. Conduct field surveys to locate additional potential wintering areas for Black-necked Cranes in Yunnan.
Research
  1. Identify current land and habitat use and determine the habitat preferences of Black-necked Cranes on wintering areas in northeast Yunnan.

  2. Study agricultural harvest and tillage practices to determine which practices most benefit the cranes and minimize crop depredation.

  3. Identify and determine roost site characteristics at wintering sites along the Lhasa and Yarlung Zsangbo rivers in southcentral Tibet, northeast Yunnan, and Bhutan.

  4. Determine through banding and satellite radio tracking the migration routes, staging areas, and breeding grounds of the northeast Yunnan, southcentral Tibet, and Bhutanese wintering populations.

  5. Determine food habits on wintering areas.

  6. Determine the potential impact of hydroelectric projects at Zhikong and Yamdrok Tso on crane roosting habitat along the Lhasa River.

  7. Study the impact of pollution for areas (such as Cao Hai) that are near industrial sites.

  8. Locate and monitor populations in winter roosting areas and at stopover sites in central Bhutan at Khotokha, Gyetsa, Thangby, and Kharsa.

  9. Study the impact of increased tourism on cranes at the Phobjika (Bhutan) and Cao Hai (Guizhou) Nature Reserves, and at Xundian (NE Yunnan).

  10. Identify and document former breeding areas.
Education and Training
  1. Develop education programs aimed at the general public.

  2. Develop conservation programs in schools.

  3. Undertake extension work with local farmers to promote farming practices that benefit both cranes and farmers.

  4. Provide training opportunities for researchers and nature reserve personnel.

  5. Promote ecotourism opportunities at Cao Hai and southcentral Tibet that provide local economic benefits while avoiding disturbance of the Black-necked Crane as well as other wildlife and their habitats.
Captive Propagation and Reintroduction
  1. Assess the distribution, status, and needs of the captive population of Black-necked Cranes in China.

  2. Implement the recommendations of the GCAR and CAMP for cranes (Mirande et al. in press a). These are to:

  3. Utilize captive-bred cranes in education programs at established nature reserves with high tourism potential (e.g., Cao Hai and Xundian).

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