Asian Openbill Storks have found a safe haven in Bihar’s Danapur, though their numbers continue to dwindle in other parts of South Asia

Danapur in Bihar may be crowded, congested and polluted, but it remains the favourite nesting and breeding ground of the Asian Openbill Stork — thousands of which travel to this safe and secure site on the wetlands of the Ganges, making it the largest heronry in South Asia.

The site, which falls under the Danapur Cantonment, has provided a safe environment to this bird species at a time when it has recorded a drastic fall in numbers in the sub-continent.

According to a report of the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC), conducted by Wetlands International that conducts annual surveys on migratory birds throughout Asia, the number of Asian Openbill Storks in South Asia had fallen from 59,897 in 2002 to 16,771 in 2004. And by 2006-07, India had the largest number of these birds at 13,036.

In contrast, the number of these birds rose significantly in South East Asia during the period, thereby indicating that the birds preferred safer pastures in the east over the highly populated South Asia.

In South East Asia, their numbers registered an exponential growth from 3,395 to 55,336 between 2002 and 2004. And in 2006-07, Thailand alone recorded 244,015 of these birds.

“The reasons for the decline in numbers in South Asia and the rise in Openbill Stork population South East Asia could be many, including poaching and hunting. The work on compilation of data for the last five years is currently on,’’ said ecologist and conservationist T.K. Roy.

But the encouraging part, Mr. Roy said, is that in Danapur Cantonment, the birds continue to find a safe place to live in.

“Just about 300 metres from the Ganga and about 200 metres from a residential area is the breeding and nesting ground of these birds.” Mr. Roy conducted a census of the birds in June, when they come to the area, and then recently in the last week of October.

“These birds stay close together for security reasons. There are just 58 low-rise trees on which they perch and where they nest. For ages, this has been their annual nesting and breeding place. And now the Army has launched efforts to ensure that there is no hunting or poaching of these birds.”

As against the arrival of about 4,000 storks every year, this year only about 3,000 birds arrived in Danapur. However, their numbers have more than doubled since with them giving birth and now there is a total of about 9,000 storks in the heronry.

The Asian Openbill Stork (Anastomus scitans) is one major species among the 11 stork species in Asia and apart from India it is found in small numbers in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in South Asia.

The storks migrate to north India in June and to the southern part of the country in November every year.