With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, humans lockdown in their homes. For safety measures, Kanchan Rural Municipality, Rupandehi district of Nepal has made arrangements of temporary quarantine centers. There are 29 people staying inside the quarantine center.
Within the premise of this center, there are tall Sal Shorea robusta trees. In one of them, a pair of Asian Woollyneck has made a stick platform nest and is breeding. This bird comes under the stork family and is distributed in South and Southeast Asia region only. According to the IUCN Red List, it has been enlisted under the Vulnerable category and also currently under revision. It has been recorded from Pakistan through India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia, and Indonesia. Occasional records have been made from the Yunnan state of China. In the Philippines, this species is thought to be extinct with no recent sightings.
While there is less information about nesting of this species, this news of breeding is exciting to conservationists. In Nepal, nesting study started in 2017 and initial results indicate this bird has preferred nesting in mid-hills compared to lowlands. Within Kanchan Rural municipality, a pair bred inside Gajedi lake in 2018. Gajedi lake is a popular picnic spot. Just below the nesting tree, there was a picnic stall where people visited for parties, barbecues with loud music disturbing nest excessively.
In 2019, this nest was abandoned which is assumed due to excess human disturbance. The good news is that stork has made another nest in the same tree this year. And, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this bird is disturbance-free and enjoying incubation.
Humans are affected by COVID19 pandemic but these birds are busy making new generations. One bird incubates eggs while another goes for a foraging trip. It gets back with food or nesting materials. These two birds exchange their work and another bird incubates sending partners for foraging. In a way, it portrays equality within sexes.
These birds are nesting in different parts of the country at this time. People steal eggs from nests, some cut down nesting trees while some are hunting. If they could remain safe from all these threats then they will breed. Issues are complex. The feeding habitat of Asian Woollyneck is changing into settlements that are directly affecting this bird. On the other side, nesting trees are declining, wetlands are degrading which is affecting many wetland-dependent species.
However, there are few pieces of research publications and inspiring start to conservation effort for this bird. Indicator of healthy wetlands, Storks feed on snakes, frogs, and other insects aiding farmers needs attention. These birds play a vital role in balancing the ecosystem.
Hope is there from bird tourism and photography which creates both enthusiasts and forums for conserving vulnerable birds with an ambition to contribute in the national economy.
“We have not made any significant effort to conserve such rare birds at present but we are determined to help conservation and research of wildlife in future,” says Gokarna Bahadur Chhetri, president of Kanchan rural municipality. Truly, if the local government could step ahead to protect birds and wildlife, conservation would be effective. Let’s hope we will see chicks of Asian Woollyneck COVID-19 quarantine.
Written by Prashant Ghimire. Featured photo by Ram Krishna.
The writer is a renowned conservation activist and emerging researcher of birds in Nepal.
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