The government of Ladakh has just declared the black-necked crane as the state bird of the union territory. The bird has important symbolic value for the Ladakhi people.

A black-necked crane (Photo by Dave Curtis on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
A black-necked crane (Photo by Dave Curtis on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to news reports on September 1 in the Kashmir Observer and in Outlook India, the Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Ladakh also declared the snow leopard as the state animal. The crane had been the official bird of the previous state of Jammu and Kashmir, which the government of India dissolved in August 2019, making Ladakh a separate union territory. The Principal Secretary, Forest, Ecology and Environment, Pawan Kotwal, issued the announcement.

The crane is only found in the high plateau region of eastern Ladakh, the Changthang, where it is listed on the IUCN Red List as a Near Threatened species. It stands about 1.35 meters tall, has a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 meters and it weighs about 6 to 8 kg. It is distinguished by a bright red patch on its head and a black neck.

The crane is a significant symbol in many Ladakhi communities and it has become a spiritually and culturally important icon. The Ladakhi revere the bird, featuring it in every festival and program in the region. Even the monasteries have paintings of the cranes along with images of other spiritual subjects. Sighting the big birds brings good luck.

According to Jigmat Takpa, a forest conservator in Ladakh, a dance performed by the birds, called the Chartses, “is performed by Ladakhis in every cultural event and festival.” He added that the bird is considered to be auspicious—a symbol of the unique ecology of Ladakh. “Ladakhis feel proud about the fact that its only breeding ground in India is in Ladakh,” Mr. Takpa said.