Red-crowned cranes return to Mekong Delta after two years

By Ngoc Tai   March 8, 2024 | 12:56 am PT
Red-crowned cranes return to Mekong Delta after two years
Four red-crowned cranes have been spotted in Tram Chim National Park in the Mekong Delta's Dong Thap Province, signaling hope of a resurgence for the endangered species.

The cranes appeared in the park around Thursday’s noon, flew around for a few hours, then perched to forage for about half an hour, said Doan Van Nhanh, Deputy Director of the Conservation Center at Tram Chim.

"Normally, a group of cranes will send a few individuals ahead as scouts to thoroughly survey before deciding to settle for the migration season," he said, noting that red-crowned cranes typically start migrating in December, when the Mekong Delta enters its dry season and continue doing so until the end of April.

Cranes are seen as creatures of intuition as they only settle in places with clean environments.

"Staff in the park are all delighted at the signal of the cranes flying back," Nhanh said.

Four red-crowned cranes visit Tram Chim National Park on March 7, 2024. Video by the park

According to the National Geographic, the red-crowned crane is the second-rarest crane in the world—second only to the whooping crane in North America.

The bird, one of the most iconic and revered bird species in East Asia, symbolizing luck, longevity, and fidelity in various cultures, is classified as "endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Red-crowned cranes are known for their striking appearance. They have a body of white feathers, with a contrasting black neck and tail. The most distinctive feature is the patch of red skin atop their head, from which they derive their name. Adults stand about 150 to 158 cm (59 to 62 inches) tall and have a wingspan of 220 to 250 cm (7.2 to 8.2 feet).

The primary threats to their survival include habitat loss due to agricultural and industrial development, pollution, and human disturbance.

In Vietnam, from the end of the year to the early months of the following year, cranes often choose Tram Chim, the 7,400-hectare sanctuary situated 150 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City for their migration.

There was a time when the national park recorded about 1,000 cranes, but thereafter, their numbers gradually declined.

According to the national park, in 2015 there were only 21 cranes, 14 in 2016, 9 in 2017, 11 in 2018, and 11 in 2019. In 2020, no cranes returned, three came back in 2021, followed by a two-year absence.

The reason for the rare bird's absence at the park is thought to be changes in the ecological environment.

The reduced seasonal floodwaters failed to wash away the thatch and diminished the fish population, which is the main food source for the birds.

According to experts, the cranes' return comes amid several changes in the ecological environment management at Tram Chim.

Earlier this year, the national park shifted from water retention for wildfire prevention to natural water regulation, prioritizing biodiversity conservation.

The reed fields, where the cranes have returned, had been drained two months earlier, with proactive burning of the thatch layer, helping the reeds to form tubers, a favorite food of the crane flock.

Last year, Dong Thap approved a crane conservation project with a total investment of VND185 billion (US$7.55 million), to be implemented over 10 years.

According to the plan, the province will receive 60 pairs of cranes from Thailand and then raise an additional 40 birds. After a period of care and training, they will be released into the wild at Tram Chim National Park.

However, the cranes have not yet been brought to the park.

Red-crowned cranes at Tram Chim National Park in 2019. Photo by Nguyen Van Hung

Red-crowned cranes at Tram Chim National Park in 2019. Photo by Nguyen Van Hung

According to the International Crane Foundation, there are an estimated 15,000-20,000 red-crowned cranes worldwide, of which 8,000-10,000 are found in India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

The population of East Asian cranes (mainly in Vietnam and Cambodia) was recorded at about 850 in 2014, but had dropped to 234 by 2014, and is currently at about 160.

Spanning 7,500 hectares, Tram Chim is recognized under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance, the fourth in Vietnam, and 2,000th in the world.

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