Western development projects severely threaten Tibet’s black-necked cranes

Black-necked Crane.  (Photo courtesy: Wildencounters.net)
Black-necked Crane.
(Photo courtesy: Wildencounters.net)

(TibetanReview.net, Aug03, 2017) – Mineral exploitation, infrastructure development and changes in agricultural practices are severely threatening the survival of the black-necked crane, the world’s least-studied crane species that is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, and other endangered wild lives, reported the IANS news service Aug 2, citing a new international study.

Under China’s Western Development Scheme, many critical but unassessed human activities are pervasive in crane’s breeding habitat, the study was cited as saying. The study, titled as “Machine Learning Model Analysis of Breeding Habitats for the Black-necked Crane in Central Asian Uplands under Anthropogenic Pressures”, was published by Springer Nature Jul 2017.

Deficient knowledge on these threats are said to be widely overlooked, greatly constraining current research and regional conservation activities,

The Alpine species breeds in the extensive landscape of high Central Asia, including Ladakh in India, and its global population is estimated to be around 10,000.

The study was cited as saying that owing to the Tibetan Plateau’s environmental inaccessibility to comprehensive field research, the black-necked crane had remained the world’s least-studied crane species.

The study was reported to have been conducted by a team of researchers led by Xuesong Han of the College of Nature Conservation in Beijing Forestry University. Falk Huettmann of the US Department of Biology and Wildlife in the Institute of Arctic Biology of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, was also said to be associated with the study.

Black-necked Crane. (Photo courtesy: telegraph)
Black-necked Crane. (Photo courtesy: telegraph)

“The rapid development in the Tibetan Plateau, especially water conservancy projects and mining, is a big threat for the survival of black-necked cranes and other endemic species,” Huettmann, a wildlife ecologist specialising in macro-ecology and global conservation, was quoted as saying, speaking on the sidelines of the 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB 2017) in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

He has added that the human interference index giving rise to the threat was quite high in the Tibetan Plateau region.

The report said that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had classified the black-necked crane, the flagship species in Tibetan Alpine wetland ecosystems, as “vulnerable” because of its decreasing global population of 10,070 to 10,970.

Its main potential breeding areas include northern parts of the Hengduan Mountains and the southeastern Tibet Valley, the northern side of the middle Kunlun Mountains, parts of the Pamir Plateau, the northern Pakistan Highlands and the western Hindu Kush.

Highland barley was traditionally planted in the middle and lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river, the report noted. However, the Chinese government changed the land use from crane-edible barley plantations to “crane-unbeneficial” but highly-profitable cash crops such as rapeseed.

The massive Han Chinese migration for constructing tourism and affiliated infrastructure was reported to be especially serious.

The report said the potential breeding area of the cranes had been invaded by large-scale construction of water conservancy projects — with nine large hydro power projects being scheduled or already constructed on the Brahmaputra and Mekong rivers.

The researchers have proposed that threats and their links to China’s western development plan must be assessed for the long-term maintenance of the endangered crane species and other wildlife on the fragile Tibetan Plateau.


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