| Black Crane
In Bhutan, events in the human and natural world turn on the same seasonal wheel, while
the Buddhist belief in reincarnation links all of creation in a still bigger cycle .
Buddhist philosophy of re-incarnation places every living thing, from the humblest to the
highest, in one chain of, birth, life and death. All life is part of this spiritual
procession linking the souls of humans and animals together in the common purpose of
achieving the ultimate goal of Nirvana. Compassion and good deeds to lower life forms
speeds on the individuals' passage from this world to a higher plane in the next.
The black-necked cranes have their own monastery which they have returned to each year
since before records began.
It is called Gantey Gompa, and sits above their marshland destination in the Black
Mountains of central Bhutan. Inside, monks pray for the safe return of the birds they
revere as Bodisatva -- beings which having achieved ther own enlightenment seek to help
others on their path.
Wherever they are found, cranes have always been a symbol of longevity.
Black-necked cranes are thought to live as long as 80 years, about twice the life
expectancy of the average Bhutanese. No wonder the cranes are thought to possess a wisdom
that comes only with great age and many past lives.
According to tradition, the cranes will in the prescribed Buddhist manner circle the
monastery three times on arrival in a clockwise direction as a mark of their devotion
before finally landing in the center of the marsh.
All cranes are territorial and these, the least understood of the 15 species, are no
exception. After the long journey south comes the dance of the black-necked cranes,
accompanied by pairs throwing objects to one another. This mysterious gift giving ceremony
may be a way these monogamous birds re-affirm their bonds to one another.
In early winter, as the cranes
arrive for the first time on the marsh, boundaries need to be defined. The marsh becomes a
valuable piece of real restate and is aggressively contested.
Here in Bhutan's Pobjika valley, the cranes are protected. To kill a crane carries a
sentence of life imprisonment. Pairs mate for life and the arrival of a solitary bird is a
sad sight. But these communities that peacefully co-exist with the cranes hold the birds
in the utmost esteem, even appointing human caretakers to see to their well-being.
Ten percent of the world's black crane population winters here in Bhutan. During the
day, the cranes will feed in the surrounding fields taking whatever gleanings are left
over from the recent harvest. Cranes are truly omnivorous and will excavate fleshy tubers
of aquatic plants, crustaceans, insects, even rodents and fish if they get a chance. Each
night, these other worldly birds return to the safety of the marsh beneath the protecting
walls of the monastery.