Talk to any birder worth his/her salt about the rarest of rare Herons - White-bellied Heron (Adrea insignis) - and you are likely to hear a catchy slogan: “Happiness is a Place” - the “Place” being Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon. And, as an afterthought, names of few other countries could crop up, such as those of Nepal, India and Myanmar. The reason is that these are the only four countries in the world where the bird is known to exist; correction - it went extinct in Nepal a few years back.
As of 2007, the White-bellied Heron has entered the IUCN Red List as a species that is Critically Endangered. It could go extinct anytime. At 28 individuals, Bhutan perhaps has the largest recorded number of these giant birds. These numbers could dwindle rapidly because of the large hydroelectric projects that are being set up in the country. The heron habitats are being imperiled by the gigantic concrete barriers that are being built to dam the Punasangchu river.
The shit hit the fan when, last year, it was revealed that the precious Punasangchu I dam was sinking - even before generating a single unit of electricity. For environmentalists however, even worst news is that as a result, the Heron population will eventually sink irrecoverably. For a nation that is touted as a champion of conservation and environmental protection, it would be the height of irresponsibility to allow these rare birds to go extinct. The environmental destruction that is being caused in the Punasangchu areas is irreversible but that is not the end of the story. Over the long haul, Bhutan’s economy will be totally messed up by these misbegotten projects. But I believe that some Bhutanese people have finally begun to understand the enormity of our problems, consequent upon the sinking dam debacle. I am now encouraged to believe that hence forth we will tread with caution.
As they say, let us cut our losses and run like hell - away from these booby-traps called: HYDROPOWER PROJECTS.
But this post is not about our woeful hydropower projects. It is about the herons, and particularly the critically endangered White-bellied Herons.
I believe that I have some fantastic and exciting news for the bird lovers and ornithologists of the world! If I am allowed to reveal, I will do so in my next post.