Calcutta, Aug. 1: Scientists from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have discovered a new bird on the Great Nicobar Island, the second report of a bird species previously unknown to science in independent India.
ZSI scientists S. Rajesh Kumar and C. Raghunathan spotted the species, named the Great Nicobar Crake, on the Great Nicobar island, the largest of a cluster of islands that make up India’s southernmost zone.
The discovery is published in a British scientific journal, BirdingASIA.
Eminent ornithologist P.C. Rasmussen, attached to the Michigan State University in the US and the Natural History Museum in the UK, has confirmed the new species, one of the two Indian scientists said.
“This is an extremely important discovery, the first (report of a new bird) by ZSI scientists since Independence,” K. Venkatraman, the director of ZSI, told The Telegraph.
Rajesh Kumar observed a single crake foraging for insects in the open for about 15 minutes on November 21, 2011, around 6am, two hours after dawn, at the Govind Nagar tsunami shelter on the east coast of the island, 6km from Campbell Bay.
“The bird was silent throughout the encounter (while the scientists were trying to photograph it), and when disturbed, ran away quickly up a steep slope and hid rather than taking flight,” the scientists wrote in their report.
The two scientists were on the island to develop an inventory of the fauna of the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (GNBR) under a Unesco programme with the support of the central environment and forests ministry.
“It was dense tropical evergreen forest and we had been camping there for quite some time. We could barely take a couple of photographs before it sped away with great speed. We never thought that it was a new species at that point of time and believed that it as a new record from the area,” Raghunathan said.
“However, once back in Port Blair, we checked all the available information and found that it was different from any known species in numerous aspects and represents a new species. Subsequently Rasmussen was consulted, who also confirmed the new species status,” added the scientist.
The scientists plan to return to the spot soon to collect a type specimen (normally a dead bird) once the rain stops in the area. Unless the type specimen is found, a bird cannot be named scientifically.
In 2006, an amateur bird watcher discovered a species, a kind of strikingly coloured babbler being named Bugun liocichla, from the remote parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Till now, that was the only new bird species finding in free India.