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Foresters fumble on avian guests

Recently, a man was caught off-guard on a family picnic to Hatia dam in the capital when his eight-year-old son, spotting a slender bird with a long tail, asked its name.

Not knowing what to say, he simply said: “It’s a foreign bird.” When the child persisted in asking the name, the harried father replied: “It’s just called a foreign bird.”

With the onset of winter, an array of migratory birds has flocked to Jharkhand. Ironically, like the man, who is a state forest official whose name has been withheld on request, his department, too, is by and large clueless about them.

For instance, the winged guest in question was a wagtail winging its way from Baluchistan.

Jamshedpur-based ornithologist K.K. Sharma said the migratory season began around September 21 with the arrival of the wagtail and tufted pochard, with contrasting black and white plumage.

But the numbers have dwindled alarmingly. “Wagtails have come in flocks of 25-30 birds per sqkm in Jamshedpur compared to around 55-60 in the past,” said Sharma.

However, no official data — names, numbers, routes, causes behind decreasing numbers or extinction — is available with the forest department.

The research wing in the department is almost defunct. “Once in a blue moon, some research activities happen, but only if anyone wants to do it on their own,” said a conservator.

Routine work, it seems, rules. For one, Ranchi territorial division has formed four teams to patrol lakes and step up vigil on bird watchers. “Three teams will patrol Kanke, Hatia and Rukka dams. One will be on standby in case of emergency. It’s a routine annual arrangement” said Y.K. Das, divisional forest officer, Ranchi (east).

But no one is willing to do anything else.

“It’s sad but true. No one is willing to do any value-added activities. We are a department entrusted with the responsibility of conserving, preserving and encouraging and biodiversity in flora and fauna. Unfortunately, we don’t do anything beyond routine work due to preoccupations such as dual postings, transfers, delay in funds and so on,” Das said.

Additional principal chief conservator of forests A.K. Mishra, who heads the research wing, said manpower crunch had paralysed activities.

Mishra for one is a busy man, holding additional charge of principal chief conservator of forests (wasteland development) department that handles land diversion issues.

“This keeps me so occupied that hardly any time is left for research work,” he rued. Yet, he was quick to clarify that wildlife research was under the jurisdiction of its specific wing an he wasn’t mandated to undertake studies on his own.

While sarkari wings may have opened up thick and fast, hardly any work on winged guests has been done.

Chief conservator of forests (wildlife) A.K. Gupta admitted documentation on migratory birds in Jharkhand was zero. “There is a sanctuary in Udhwa so the department may have records,” he said.

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