India has the world’s second largest population (estimated at 1.25 billion). It has a diverse and growing economy and is one of the world’s fastest developing countries, although growth rates have slowed somewhat since 2011.
India encompasses a wide range of landscapes, climates, cultures, languages and religions, though by far the largest of the latter is Hinduism.
The White-bellied Heron occurs in northeastern India in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Northeast India is one of the most culturally diverse areas of India, with over 200 ethnic groups and associated dialects. While the Himalayas makes up much of the landscape, Assam also includes the Brahmaputra Valley and Barak River Valley. Much of the area remains under forest cover and so is rich in biodiversity.
Unlike in much of India, people in northeast India often eat meat. Hunting wild animals in many rural areas of northeast India is regarded as a cultural norm and a traditional practice.
White-bellied Heron in India
White-bellied Heron is found in two distinct regions of northeast India – Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh has been noted as a stronghold for the species where successful breeding has been recorded. The status of species in Manas Tiger Reserve is little known but it is suspected that birds may cross the boarder to Bhutan.
The Assamese name for White-bellied Heron is Bogapetia Ajan, but no cultural values have been found to be associated with this species in the Assam part of the range. However local people are of the view that the bird is very rare.
Within WBH range in Arunachal Pradesh, there also seems to be no cultural value attached to the species and it apparently has no local name.
Formal protection of White-bellied Heron in India
In India the White-bellied Heron is included in Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Protection act (1972). This means that the species is fully protected, but the penalties for contravention are much lower than for species on Schedule I-III.
Threats to White-bellied Heron in India
With India’s vast population and development model, its environment is under pressure from deforestation, soil erosion, pollution, dam developments and more. India has plans for 200 megadams plus 700 smaller, run-of-river dams. Illegal fishing and mining practices with national parks may also be impacting WBH.
In Arunachal Pradesh, there are thought to be 26 major tribes and 110 sub-tribes (Muthamizh et al., 2013), most of whom are meat-eaters and many still dependent on natural resource livelihoods, including hunting. Its proximity to China and Myanmar may also facilitate the international trade of wildlife products, and poaching is known to occur in Manas.