Greater Adjutant Stork, the world’s most endangered of the stork species, has found a secure home to breed in two nondescript villages of Assam’s Kamrup district, heralding a new chapter in its conservation.

A campaign was launched four years ago at Dadara and Pacharia villages, home to nearly 50 per cent of the bird’s global population, to save the birds which were approaching the red zone in the conservation scale by ‘Aaranyak’, a wildlife conservation organisation.

Earlier, widely distributed throughout northern and eastern India and many countries of south and south-east Asia, the Greater Adjutant Stork is currently distributed only in Assam and Bihar in India and a few other locations in Cambodia.

The Brahmaputra Valley in Assam is considered the last stronghold of the endangered stork, locally called ‘Hargila’, and harbours more than 80 per cent of the global population of the species.

“The irony is that many traditional nesting colonies of this bird have disappeared in the last few decades and now there are only a few nesting colonies left in Assam,” said Wildlife Biologist Purnima Devi Barman, who is spearheading the campaign.

The main problem of conservation of this bird is that “it breeds in privately-owned nesting trees in colonies and their future depends on the willingness and support of these tree-owners,” she said.

Initially, when the campaign was started in 2009 “we found that many people having the nesting colonies in their houses cut the trees to get rid of this bird which feed on carcasses and live vertebrates as they made their campus dirty,” Ms. Barman said.

Ms. Barman said some villagers did not hesitate to chase away the birds and hitting them with stones when they started nesting in the villages while tree-owners complained that they have to invest a lot of time in cleaning the campus which the birds dirty as they fear it may spread diseases.

Continuous awareness programmes have led to a remarkable change in the mindset of the people and in the last four years they have not cut a single nesting tree, she said.

A conservation team has been constituted in the two villages who have been trained to conserve these species.

“Some members of the team also include a few youths who were earlier engaged in hitting the birds but these youths are now monitoring every household for studying and protecting the birds,” she added.

The team conducts street plays at the villages to spread awareness, gather data, rescue birds, celebrate the rehabilitation of these birds and villagers have even gone to the extent of weaving stork motifs in the traditional Assamese ‘gamocha’ (hand-towel).

“It is, therefore, important to take necessary steps to protect the birds during the breeding season from August to April. Besides, there is another danger of the chicks falling from the trees which are about 70 ft tall,” she pointed out.

The team has constructed a 75-foot-tall bamboo platform to keep a close watch on the breeding of the birds and the development of the chicks.

Relentless awareness campaigns have borne fruit and these two villages now have the largest colony of nesting storks with more than 140 nests and they have earned the sobriquet of being called the stork villages, she said.

Barman said that she was working with the communities with the help of Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) and Mohammad Bin Zayed Species Conservation but it “was high time the government came forward to support us with facilities necessary to rescue and rehabilitate these birds”.

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