Endangered greater adjutant storks grow in Bihar, says wildlife official

Updated on Oct 10, 2022 05:06 PM IST

Greater adjutant storks were considered closer to extinction a couple of decades ago, but their population in Bihar’s Kadwa-Kosi riverine belt is now estimated to have crossed 600

India now accounts for 90% of the greater adjutant storks population with Bihar’s Kosi riverine belt being the main contributor. (Sourced)
India now accounts for 90% of the greater adjutant storks population with Bihar’s Kosi riverine belt being the main contributor. (Sourced)

After the successful conservation of river dolphins, Bihar has now scripted another success story in protecting greater adjutant storks, which were considered closer to extinction a couple of decades ago, said a senior official familiar with the development.

What started in 2007 with the spotting of a group of these large birds, also known as the mythological Garuda, in Kadwa Kosi Diara, a village in the floodplains of the Kosi river in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, has now become a movement in the region and achieved international recognition, said the state’s additional principal chief conservator of forests-cum-chief wildlife warden, PK Gupta.

Apart from Bihar, particularly in Bhagalpur’s Kosi riverine belt, it is found only in some pockets in Assam’s Brahmaputra valley. The number of Greater Adjutant Storks in the Kadwa-Kosi riverine belt alone is now estimated to have crossed 600. India now accounts for 90% of the Garuda population.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) study of 2013 had put the worldwide number at 1,200-1,300, but now the estimates put the figures at 1,500-1,800 and Kosi riverine belt is the main contributor.

The Kadwa Kosi riverine belt is now in the select list of “Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures” (OECMs) to draw global attention towards conservation efforts.

Arvind Mishra, an expert on greater adjutants and state coordinator of the Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), who first spotted the large birds in the area and initiated the conservation efforts, said it became a success due to the concerted efforts and community involvement in the last one and a half decades.

The mythological Garuda has been revered as the mount of Vishnu and mentioned in ancient religious scriptures as the king of birds. In Bihar, they mostly have nests on trees like Peepal, Kadamb, Gamhar, Kamha etc.

“What is significant about the area is that here different varieties of storks can be spotted in the breeding season and the striking and emotional involvement of the community to protect Garudas from every danger,” said Mishra.

“It is the same community that was sceptical about our motive when we first started the exercise of conservation. It is because of the community participation that we have reached this far and now the locals take pride in protection work,” he said.

“One of the key factors behind their near extinction was rampant hunting during the Mughal era and later misconception about antidote for snake poison in their head. Somebomadic tribes also ate them,” he added.

Mishra said the birds are being tagged with GPS trackers to track their breeding as part of the ongoing efforts for their conservation. “We have also submitted a proposal to the Bihar government for satellite tracking of the birds to monitor their movement around the year, as to where they go during rainy season and how far they travel,” he added.

“In Bihar, we have also spotted a few of them in Khagaria, Purnea and Madhepura. We keep going there to create awareness. We also had talks with the Khagaria district magistrate,” he said.

He said it was encouraging to see the birds nesting in Bhagalpur and breeding without any fear of hunting.

Recently a team of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National Biodiversity Authority also visited the riverine area to film the birds, their habitat and the conservation efforts.

“The efforts were hailed at the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) conference in Lonewala, Maharashtra, last year in October and the 13th session of the Conference of the Partiesto the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. This has also put focus on other migratory birds in the state,” said Gupta.

“The first scientific survey of migratory birds this year in 68 wetlands of the state showed presence of 202 species of migratory birds and the number of birds was 45,193. Bihar has 17,500 wetlands of 2.25 hectares or above, while 4,500 are listed on the national wetlands atlas. Imagine the number of migratory birds if all wetlands are taken into account. And Garuda success has been the trigger for all this and it has been our emblem for bird conservation efforts now,” he added.

Gupta said that while Bhagalpur now has a bird ringing and monitoring station, the state also celebrates state bird fair to showcase the diversity.

However, in the last couple of years, the endangered birds, as their number started increasing, faced a new threat from 11,000 kv high voltage wire passing over their breeding area for over one-km stretch.

Mishra said that three birds died in the last two years after coming in contact with the high voltage wire.

“We immediately contacted the then principal secretary, department of environment, forests and climate change, Dipak Kumar Singh for much-needed steps to save the birds and he was quick to take cognisance for requisite action,” he added.

He said it was refreshing to see prompt action on part of the Bihar government to save the habitat of birds. “The electricity officials did spot inspection with me and the work for underground wiring in the one-km stretch from near Khairpur Middle School, where 23 nests of the birds were spotted on an old Peepal tree, has already been completed,” he said.

“A few years ago, a four-lane road was to pass from there and the government showed sensitivity on our request to change the alignment to save the tree, which is still the abode of the greater adjutants during reproductive season. Being colonial nesters, the birds settle in groups on a tree for breeding and it presents a beautiful sight. Many people worship the tree where they nest and breed,” he added.

Mishra said what Bihar government did is something states like Gujarat and Rajasthan are struggling to do despite growing threat to nearly extinct great Indian bustard. It is said that barely 200 great Indian bustards are now left in India.

“They are found in Gujarat and Rajasthan, but the efforts to do underground wiring in their habitation area is yet to yield positive result despite electrocution threat. The matter has also reached the Supreme Court. I have documented it in my recent scientific communication. Bihar’s quick action is a reminder for other states to act fast for protecting species from extinction,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Arun Kumar is Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times. He has spent two-and-half decades covering Bihar, including politics, educational and social issues.

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