07 June, 2016

Photospeak | Scavenger in danger

By Rituraj Konwar

On World Environment Day, we look at an endangered species in India that mostly feeds off Guwahati's garbage dumps — the greater adjutant stork

The greater adjutant stork is one of the most endangered bird species widely distributed in the plains of the Brahmaputra valley of Assam. The present global population of the greater adjutant stork is about 1,500 — around 900 of them are in Assam.

The stork, a scavenger, has long been known in India for making frequent use of rubbish damps which is important for its survival. The birds are therefore often observed in urban settings.

Earlier in Guwahati these birds were recorded in 12 localities, and they bred only in North Guwahati.

But fast-vanishing wetlands in and around the city has now become a major threat for the survival of the stork. Guwahati has the largest concentration of the endangered greater adjutant storks in the world, and forage for food at the city’s main dumping ground near the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary.

In Assam, wetlands are used most intensively by the stork between October and February (the breeding season) when fish and other live prey thrive. During the non-breeding season these birds concentrate in urban disposal sites, where small wetlands lie just across.

This bird is principally a carnivore and consumes many vertebrates, particularly to meet the considerable calcium requirement of its fast growing chicks. Its diet includes carrions, fish, frogs, reptiles, crustaceans, large insects, young ducks and other birds.

The greater adjutant stork breeds singly, semi-colonially or colonially in arboreal sites that have been in use for many years. Characteristically, they to place their nest on very tall trees — most of them are located now on privately-owned land. The nests are usually located within within 300 metres of human habitation in densely-populated urban areas.

The bird, naturally, carries with it an unpleasant odour and this encourages people to drive it away. Its sounds are considered a cacophony too. People are left with little choice — cut the trees, drive them away or cull them. They manage to do the last part by lacing the dumping ground with insecticides, thus killing the unwary birds. Not many are aware that it is illegal to kill them.

What can be done to prevent this? The nesting sites can be declared as community-protected areas. Planting tall trees to help with their roosting is another way.

Regulating construction around wetlands would go a long way in preserving the stork’s habitat. Garbage dumps in Guwahati should not be concentrated in one area alone (near Deeper Beel) but spread out across the city’s outskirts.

Care should be taken not to spray pesticide or insecticide on the waste. And how about segregating the waste into bio- and non-biodegradable?

VIDEO: A scavenger which was in plenty and so useful that it was depicted on the logo of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, numbers only a few thousand today.

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