Rebecca Pradhan & The White Bellied Heron

There are some species of animal on this planet that are so few in number that conservationists are tracking nearly every living one of its kind. They are so endangered that people are barely sure they exist at all in some parts of the world until some surprise sighting. With only 60 known left in the wild of an estimated 200, the White Bellied Heron is one of these creatures. It has been the noble mission of Rebecca Pradhan to try and ensure this incredible animal’s survival.

 

This planet is blessed with a plethora of extraordinary bird species. The White Bellied Heron, however, still ranks as a truly remarkable spectacle of nature. Able to stand taller than 1.2 meters in height, the White Bellied Heron is the second largest heron species on earth. The body is predominantly covered in grey feathers with, of course, a white underside rising up to its neck. 

 

Silent fishers, herons are often perceived as creatures of tranquility, which matches the beautiful settings they inhabit. The White Bellied Heron can be found in the foothills of the Himilyan Mountains including Northern India, Myanmar and Bhutan, some of the most naturally stunning areas anywhere on earth. 

 

As with so many creatures, however, the White Bellied Heron has been pushed to the edge of extinction by the forces of mankind. This includes habitat destruction and poaching (including hunting for its eggs.) With numbers so low, the international community has predicted that it will be incredibly difficult to protect this species even for the next few decades.

 

The only things that can reverse this devastating trend is the effort of highly skilled and incredibly passionate conservationists. In steps Rebecca Pradhan. A senior ecologist with the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Rebecca has been leveraging her intimate knowledge of Bhutan’s flora and fauna to contribute to a successful conservation project of the White Bellied Heron.

 

Rebecca first started monitoring the species almost 30 years ago in 1981. In the past several years she has contributed to the successful tagging and tracking of the birds, giving conservationists a better understanding of their habits and the specific threats they face. She is also helping to try and set up the first in-captivity breeding programme in coordination with the conservation organisation Synchronicity Earth. This programme could provide a last-resort insurance policy for the species if there was a catastrophic threat to the wild population.

 

Rebecca’s approach has not only utilised her knowledge of the natural landscape of Bhutan, but also its people. She has gathered information from indigenous communities into how to best preserve the habitats of the White Bellied Herons. Conversely, she has worked to educate local people about the importance of helping to protect the species by demonstrating the beneficial role it plays in the local ecosystem. Here she exemplifies a critical characteristic of modern conservation: strengthening the relationship between man and the natural world to ensure both can live in sustained harmony. 

 

While individuals such as Rebecca Pradhan continue to work on the challenge of conservation, there is no challenge too great for us to overcome. Even species as critically endangered as the White Bellied Heron still stand a chance when there are those who are able to use specialist knowledge in conjunction with a forward-thinking conservation strategy. 

 

It is for this reason that this year at Wildscreen Festival we would like to celebrate the work of Rebecca Pradhan. 

 Written by Liam Curran.

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