Bumdeling Bids Farewell To The Beloved Black Necked Cranes, Awaits Their Return To Bhutan
These sacred cranes have for years become a part of the community and are treated as important guests.
By Neten Dorji | Kuensel
On 29 February, villagers of Bumdeling in the district of Trashiyangtse dressed up in their finest ghos and kiras (traditional male and female costumes of Bhutan) to bid farewell to the beloved black-necked cranes.
Out on the balconies, residents as well as some visitors, young and old, waved as the last of the black-necked cranes left the village to make their annual migration.
The two major migratory sites for these birds in Bhutan are: the Phobjikha Valley in Wangdue district and Bumdeling Valley in Trashiyangtse district.
Photo: India Environment Portal
As winter approaches, the cranes will make their annual pilgrimage to the valley around October where they usually remain until the following March.
As the birds soared above the village, circled around and disappeared over the hills, the children shouted their goodbyes and parents prayed for the safe returns of the birds again sometime in late October this year.
In fact, it was an official farewell to the last batch of eight birds that left Bumdeling gewog (village). These sacred cranes have for years become a part of the community and are treated as important guests.
Holding a special place in the hearts and folklore of the Bhutanese, the black-necked crane is also known as the ‘Thrung Thrung Karmo’ in Dzongkha. They are also called ‘Lhab-bjas’ or ‘heavenly birds’ by the locals.
The students of Bumdeling Lower Secondary School also performed a crane courtship dance by donning costumes that make them look like cranes. They also sang the Thrung Thrung song as a tribute to these endearing birds.
This is the first time that the residents of Bumdeling had come together to bid farewell to the black-necked cranes, an endangered species highly revered by the locals as heavenly birds.
The Bhutanese also believe that it is symbol of marital fidelity and are auspicious birds.
Importance of conserving black necked cranes and their habitat
On a more serious note, the official farewell highlighted the importance of conserving the species and improving its habitat along the banks of Kholongchhu River in Bumdeling.
The Black-necked crane is listed as an endangered species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species and is legally protected in Bhutan.
It was also an occasion for the villagers to take ownership and renew their commitment to conserve these precious cranes.
Officials from the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary said that unlike Phobjikha Valley, another popular crane roosting ground of these special birds, which celebrated their arrival with the black-necked crane festival, they chose to celebrate their departure instead.
Source: Youtube/Tshering Tobgay
Park Manager, Karma Tempa, said that it was everybody’s responsibility to protect these endangered birds.
“The farewell with a celebration was to create awareness on the conservation of these birds.”
He also mentioned that there were no injuries or causalities reported for about a decade while the visitors were in Bumdeling.
“Every year, we protect them well and ensure they fly well to the Tibetan plateau, their summer habitat.”
Reasons for the decline in arrival of black necked cranes
However, officials said that the number of cranes visiting Bumdeling has been decreasing every year and only about 93 birds came to Bumdeling this winter. This is down by 50 percent from 1987.
“Disturbance of feeding and rooting grounds could have resulted in the decreasing number of cranes. Within two years, we have restrained 10 acres of feeding ground,” he said.
Trashiyangtse’s Dzongrab Gom, Lam Dorji, highlighted the importance of conservation and taking ownership of cranes.
He reminded the residents of Bumdeling that they are fortunate to be included in the conservation group as this rare species of bird is found only in Bhutan, India and China.
The dzongkhag (district) is also planning to start an eco-lodge in Bumdeling in the current fiscal year, with the aim of letting visitors learn more about these special birds while getting more local youths employed at the same time.
“We would hand over the public and employ the youth of Bumdeling.”
Meanwhile, some of the locals felt that bidding farewell to crane made the occasion more special and exciting.
Bumpa Tshering, a 72 years old resident said that the birds have a special spiritual connection to the villagers.
“Before the birds descend to Bumdeling valley on its arrival, they will circumambulate the Rigsum Goenpa (Monastery) and fly over same place. They bring luck with them.”
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.