Dumps of Assam host rare species

Dumps of Assam host rare species
T here’s something heart wrenchingly sad about spotting an endangered bird near a garbage dump. But believe it or not, greater adjutant storks, which experts say are not more than 1,000 the world over, are a common sight at the Guwahati city dump. This city, by the way, has the largest concentration of this endangered species. The other two areas being Bihar and Cambodia.

We reached Guwahati early morning to see these storks scavenge for food at the dump, about 20 km from the main city, along with ragpickers who were segregating waste for recycling. Amidst a mountain of plastic, the greater adjutant stork was busy digging around for food.

Agreed, this bird is mainly a scavenger bird, still it was a sight that could break a bird lover’s heart. If it’s any consolation: with egrets and crows for company, this rare species although taken for granted by ragpickers there, draws many people who come to photograph or watch these birds.

There are 19 different species of storks in the world and 10 of them are found in India. Greater adjutant stork is one of the largest: its wingspan measures 99 inches. Its head does not have any hair and it sports a white neck ruff. It has a four-sided wedged shaped bill and a hanging neck pouch.

The bird was once quite common in various parts of our country. In fact, it was the logo of the municipal corporation of Kolkata. It was also known as Calcutta Stork, as it was spotted regularly near the cremation area of Ganges. (Yes, those days they were feeding on the remains of human bodies). Now the city does not have a single bird to its credit.

Scientists give reasons such as habitat destruction, exploitation of fishing and increasing use of pesticide for the disappearance of the species. A close relative of this species called lesser adjutant stork, found in central India not so long ago, also faces a similar fate: their number has also been dwindling drastically. It is also listed as vulnerable and is just one step behind the greater adjutant stork.

If we have to protect these rare species from being completely wiped off the earth, we need immediate measures such as monitoring, creating rescue centres and captive breeding sites in the area where these precious birds still remain.

As Dr Asad Rahmani, director Bombay Natural History Society, says: “If we lose species like this, we will lose the planet before we know it. It is our responsibility to create a secure environment for these birds.”

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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