Guwahati: The white-bellied heron, a critically endangered species with arguably a population of about 250 spread across the world, has been spotted in Kamlang Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. The youngest reserve in the state under the centrally-funded Project Tiger programme, sighted this bird recently while forest officials were on the trail of the big cat in the core area of the reserve. Experts have opined that the presence of the birds in the undisturbed core area has been a blessing for the species as they can flourish in this habitation.
“Most importantly, we have sighted the white-bellied heron in a location that is in the core area. We sighted the birds in the past two years but only on camera traps. For the first time we sighted them directly and captured them on video,” DFO of Kamlang Tiger Reserve, Cheshta Singh, told TOI. The bird was spotted on the banks of the Tawah riverbed in the core zone of Kamlang Reserve in the last week of January.
Forest officials said protecting the breeding grounds near rivers and stopping illegal fishing for the fish-eating bird have emerged as a new challenge. Kamlang Reserve shares a boundary with the Namdapha Tiger Reserve, which also has some population of the bird, and forest staff there sight have them quite regularly. There are three tiger reserves in Arunachal, including Pakke.
Singh said vast areas where the bird is believed to have habitats are free of human habitation. “This bird actually prefers large areas which are totally undisturbed. We need to protect such habitats where we thought only tigers used to roam,” Singh added.
The white-bellied heron has been found to breed along the river side on trees and shrubs. Herons eat fish and depending on their food habit, Singh felt that illegal fishing needs to be stopped, at least inside the sanctuaries. But the DFO stressed on the need for studies focussed on the species.
The elusive and extremely rare bird was sighted during the All India Tiger Estimation 2021-22, read a recent tweet from the Kamlang Tiger Reserve authority. A video clipping of the bird for about 27 seconds was incorporated in the tweet. “This demonstrates the value of the habitat in terms of conservation and protection from various threats,” she said.
“Only because of the ongoing Project Tiger in the country that we could sight the bird in the core area. If we have a focussed study, it can lead to more discoveries. There may be a significant number of this species as this area is tough to traverse,” she felt.
Besides the northeast, habitat degradation of the bird has raised concern in neighbouring Bhutan, too. Some conservationists feel that its population has dwindled below 100. The Royal Society for Protection of Nature has stressed on the conservation of the species in Bhutan.


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