Justification of Red List Category
Although one of the most abundant of the Asian storks, this species is classified as Near Threatened because it is thought to be undergoing a moderately rapid population decline owing primarily to hunting, wetland drainage and pollution.
Perennou et al. (1994) estimated populations of 15,000 individuals in South Asia, and fewer than 10,000 individuals in South-East Asia, with an estimated total of 15,000-25,000 individuals. Wetlands International (2013) now estimate 25,000 individuals in South Asia and retain the estimate of 1-10,000 individuals in South-East Asia. This equates to approximately 25,000-35,000 individuals or 16,000-24,000 mature individuals. Recent work in South Asia has found that a large proportion of the population uses non-wetland areas meaning that a heavy reliance on counts from wetland areas may be underestimating the total population (G. Sundar in litt. 2016).
Both the populations in South Asia and South-East Asia are thought to be declining (Wetlands International 2013). The species is suspected to be declining at a moderately rapid rate, owing to hunting, drainage and pollution. However in northern India there has been no evidence for recent declines (G. Sundar in litt. 2016).
This species occurs in Pakistan (scarce; mainly confined to the Indus delta region), Nepal (rare in terai; mainly a summer visitor), India (widespread and locally common resident, increasing in Kerala [Nameer et al. 2015]), Bangladesh (former resident, now a straggler to coastal regions), Sri Lanka (locally abundant, particularly in the dry zone), China (previously a common summer visitor in south, probably breeding, but now rare and possibly extinct), Myanmar (former resident in central region and visitor throughout; current status unknown but clearly rare), Thailand (previously common breeder in south, now on verge of extinction, small numbers recorded sporadically elsewhere), Laos (previously widespread, now rare), Vietnam (formerly widespread resident, now a rare non-breeding visitor), Cambodia (local resident, the number of nests at Prek Toal, Tonle Sap Lake peaking at 2,419 in 2010 since then numbers have fallen to 1,812 nests in 2014 [Visal and Mahood 2015]) and Peninsular Malaysia (previously regular, now a vagrant). There are an estimated 15,000-25,000 individuals in South Asia (Wetlands International 2013) and fewer than 10,000 in South-East Asia (Perennou et al. 1994), with populations declining throughout. Although it is considered one of the most numerous and secure of Asian storks, this is more a reflection of the rarity and endangerment of most storks in the region, than the security of this species.
It frequents freshwater marshes, lakes and reservoirs, flooded fields, rice paddies, irrigation canals, freshwater swamp forest, river banks, intertidal mudflats and saltpans.
The increasing impacts of habitat loss, disturbance, pollution, wetland drainage and the hunting of adults and collection of eggs and nestlings from colonies are cause for concern particularly in south-east Asia (G. Sundar in litt. 2016). In northern India conversion of wetland habitat to fishing ponds has reduced their value as waterbird habitat (Sundar et al. 2015). Hybridisation between free-flying Painted Storks and Milky Storks M. cinerea at Singapore Zoo has apparently produced reproductively viable offspring, raising the question of whether these hybrids could pose a threat if they crossed over into mainland South-East Asia (Yong D. L. in litt. 2011), or if the rare interbreeding of these species observed in the wild (J. C. Eames in litt. 2011) could also be a threat. Eggs of the species are collected for food in parts of the range (A J Urfi in litt. 2016).
Conservation Actions Underway
Landscape-scale monitoring of breeding and foraging populations on agricultural areas in South Asia has been coordinated by the International Crane Foundation and the Nature Conservation Foundation since 2011 (G. Sundarin litt. 2016). It occurs in a number of protected areas. It is classified as a Rare Species under Cambodian law (Visal and Mahood 2015). Since 2004 the colony at Prek Toal, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia, has been successfully protected and monitored by MoE staff who work with former egg collectors. Data derived from tree-top platform based counts indicate that the population has grown from 1,000 to 2,300 nests from 2004 to 2011. However, overflights of the colony suggest that only 50% is visible from platforms, so there are now likely to be 4-5,000 nesting pairs (S. Mahood in litt. 2012). Three postage stamps have been brought out in India to raise awareness of the species (Urfi 2011, A J Urfi in litt. 2016).
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Mahood, S., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Allinson, T, Ashpole, J
Sundar, G., Urfi, A.J., vanZalinge, R., Mahood, S.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Mycteria leucocephala. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/07/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/07/2020.