Sunday Special | Environment

For the first time, waterfowl steal rhino thunder in Kaziranga

Safe haven: Bar-headed geese in Kaziranga.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

The waterfowl of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) have come out of the shadow of the one-horned rhino after more than a century.

On December 19-20, the KNP authorities conducted the baseline survey of waterfowl that are crucial to the wetland-dominated ecosystem of the world’s best-known habitat of the Rhinoceros unicornis.

This is the first time that the focus of attention in the 113-year-old Kaziranga, also a tiger reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, has shifted from the ‘big four’ — rhino, elephant, Bengal tiger and Asiatic water buffalo. Rabindra Sarma, Kaziranga’s research officer, said the survey was important because the park did not have much data on its avian wealth, specifically the waterfowl living in 92 permanent and more than 250 seasonal water bodies in the park.

“Though the rhino prefers grasslands, it can be called a wetland animal because it needs to wallow and depends on submerged vegetation in shallow water bodies. A good avifauna reflects on the health of the ecosystem, and the population trend will help us know whether or not the conditions have deteriorated,” he told The Hindu.

Rohini Ballave Saikia, Kaziranga’s Divisional Forest Officer, said eight teams comprising 19 birdwatchers and forest guards carried out the survey for the baseline date. The teams covered the eastern, central and western ranges of the park.

The 430 sq km Kaziranga has five ranges — four on the southern bank of river Brahmaputra and one on the northern bank.

“A total of 10,412 birds were counted, covering 80 species from 21 families, during the waterfowl census in 19 places nourished by eight major water bodies in the park,” Mr. Saikia said. The enumerators counted 8,074 ducks and geese from the family Anatidae. Bar-headed geese accounted for more than 3,000 of these, followed by gadwalls, common teals, lesser whistling ducks, northern pintails, greylag geese, mallards, Indian spot-billed ducks, Eurasian wigeons, ruddy shelducks, northern shovelers, ferruginous ducks, common pochards, and Chinese spot-billed ducks.

The populations of garganeys, tufted ducks, the critically endangered Baer’s pochards, falcated ducks and common pygmy geese were among the lowest in the ducks and geese category.

Naturalists’ delight

“Other rare birds sighted at the water bodies included the critically endangered red-headed vulture, the endangered Pallas’s fish eagle and the greater adjutant stork, and the vulnerable greater spotted eagle, great hornbill, lesser adjutant stork, woolly-necked stork, and swamp francolin,” Mr. Saikia said.

Research officer Rabindra Sarma said bird surveys could have been done earlier but no records were maintained. “We did it scientifically and systematically for the first time by dividing the roosting areas into blocks and ensuring over-counting or under-counting was kept to a minimum.”

The bulk of the waterfowl population was in the eastern range mainly because of the expansive Sohola beel that is formed by six shallow water bodies.

“Now that we have the baseline data, we plan to broaden the scope of the survey in the coming years and keep training interested college or university students for periodic exercises,” Mr. Sarma said.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 11:54:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/for-the-first-time-waterfowl-steal-rhino-thunder-in-kaziranga/article25808609.ece

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