As the sun rose, 13 Thai eastern Sarus cranes were released onto a rippling reservoir in northeastern Thailand, the latest attempt to revive the near-extinct species in the kingdom.
More commonly known as Thai cranes, the birds almost disappeared from the country about 50 years ago – they were last spotted in the wild in 1968 – before a collaboration between the Thai government, Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo and the United Nations to save them.
A breeding program, with birds donated by Cambodia, began in 1989, with the first reintroduction in 2011.
Sarus cranes are classified by the ICNC as “vulnerable”, with an estimated 15,000 left in the wild – with the Thai subspecies thought to have disappeared from Thailand’s wild wetlands.
But since 2011, more than 150 captive-bred birds – which can grow to 1.8 meters and weigh almost seven kilograms – have been released in Buriram province.
“It is the only place where the Thai cranes are able to live and reproduce on their own,” said Governor Chaiwat Chuntirapong.
The birds were transported in large, custom-made boxes – their red-feathered heads peeking through mesh windows – from the Wetland and Eastern Sarus Crane Conservation Center where they were bred to the Huai Chorakhe Mak Reservoir.
The last flock of 13 cranes was released at once on Christmas Day. The tall birds honked loudly and clumsily flapped as they unsteadily took to the skies accompanied by cheering children and onlookers.
It was the last moment of a long journey for the scientists, who carefully nurtured the cranes from hatching, gradually introduced them to the wild and then took them on their final flight to freedom.
– The shepherd wears a suit that hides her body and carries a doll with a bird’s head on her hands to teach the birds everything from feeding to introducing them to nature, says Tanat Uttaraviset, researcher at Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo.
As a result of the long process, about 60 to 70 percent of the birds survive in the wild, he said.
Before being released, each bird is microchipped and tagged, allowing researchers to track them and improve conservation efforts.
In addition to breeding and releasing the cranes, an important part of the program has been to teach people about the species and the environment.
The Huai Chorakhe Mak reservoir was chosen in part thanks to its natural spread of water chestnuts – an important food source for cranes during the dry season.
But their habitat is still threatened by the “widespread invasion of agriculture”, said director of Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo Thanachon Kensing.
The zoo has established a learning center that teaches tourists and local people how to take better care of the environment the birds need to survive.
“It is difficult to change villagers’ attitudes,” Thanachon admitted.
“But if we can communicate with them… this project will be successful,” he said.
Scientist Tanat had only one hope as he saw his red-headed charges hovering above the sparkling water.
“The ultimate goal is to secure the crane population,” he said.
© 2022 AFP
Citation: Fly from home: rare Eastern Sarus cranes released in Thailand (2022, December 27) Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-fly-home-rare-eastern-sarus.html
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