Experts' discovery of plastic in the faeces of the black-necked cranes has raised new concerns around the health, safety and long-term survival of the endangered species
By Nidup Gyeltshen
Bhutan reinforced its 20-year old ban on plastics in April this year. First introduced on the 25th year of the reign of the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the ban has been only partially successful. Part of the reason is that it was never comprehensive, and did not apply to goods packaged in Bhutan, only for single use plastic bags. Even this was poorly implemented.
The new phase of implementation will penalise shopkeepers for offering plastic bags, but still allow plastic packaging for goods produced by small farmers and businesses. This may not be enough as plastic has penetrated deep into Bhutan’s ecosystem. A team of researchers, in an ongoing study, have found plastic for the first time in the faeces of the endangered black-necked cranes.
Black-necked cranes are classified as vulnerable and globally threatened, and they are also considered sacred in many communities along the Western Himalayan region, from China to India. This new discovery has raised new concerns on the health, safety and long-term survival of the endangered species.
The new discovery
The team that made the discovery comprised researchers from the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) and the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS). They collected more than 1,000 samples of faeces in Bumdeling, one of the major wintering grounds for black-necked cranes in Bhutan.
The study is part of the black-necked crane conservation project where RSPN, UWICER and BWS has tied up with the US-based International Crane Foundation (ICF).
Of the 95 percent of the samples that were analysed so far, researchers confirmed 5 percent had plastics in them. The analysis was carried out at Sherubtse College, Bhutan’s oldest and largest college, as well as at UWICER’s own laboratory in Bumthang.
The faeces are soaked in distilled water overnight and then placed on a petri dish where the samples are examined and segregated. A microscope is then used to examine the segregated contents and to take pictures.
The team came across 6.6 grams of plastics in one of the samples on 16 May and is finding more plastics as the study progresses.
“We found some more plastics today morning,” said Sherub from UWICER, one of Bhutan’s top ornithologist who is leading the team of researchers, on Tuesday.
He said that although Bhutan has strong environmental regulations, it has not taken the responsibility of disposing plastics properly and they have found their way into the black-necked cranes’ habitat.
While already facing several other challenges in terms of habitat degradation, plastics being found for the first time in the crane’s faeces is expected to push the government to step up its conservation policies.