File photo of the white-bellied heron. Photo: By Mahesh Iyer – Own work Photo taken at Pho Chu/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Itanagar: The white-bellied heron, a rare and elusive bird, was spotted at Walong in the Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh, officials said on Saturday.
Walong is around 557 kilometres from the state capital.
The bird was spotted and photographed by divisional forest officer (DFO) of Anjaw Santosh Kumar Reddy, range forest officer Nosing Pul and scientist Dekbin Yonggam earlier this month.
The white-bellied heron is categorised as ‘critically endangered’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data Book and is listed in Schedule IV in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
It is one of the rarest birds in the world and is at present found only in Bhutan, Myanmar and the Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.
It had also been recorded in the adjacent Kamlang Tiger Reserve in Lohit district in camera trap images.
The recent sighting at a height of 1,200 meters above sea level is a first at such a higher elevation in India, forest officials said.
The presence of nesting sites within this area is a positive sign for the future habitat as the breeding season of the white-bellied heron starts in February and lasts till June, they said.
Principal chief conservator of forests R.K. Singh said it is great news that the critically endangered bird is establishing new habitats beyond its traditional range.
“This itself epitomises the positive health of the forest ecosystem in this biodiversity-rich state,” he said.
Chief wildlife warden G. Kumar said, “It is a good sign for the rare bird to appear in the pristine forest areas of Arunachal.”
Kumar said a team comprising scientists of the Forest Department along with those from reputed national institutions such as Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata would soon carry out joint field research to find out ways to conserve the future prospects of the rare and globally-threatened bird.
Since the bird is extremely shy to human presence, the ‘gaon buras’ and village heads of Walong have been asked to make local communities aware of the importance to protect the bird and conserve its habitat, he said.