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Hill camp before home for birds
- Kurseong awaits tragopans

A Satyr tragopan. Courtesy: John Corder

Dow Hill will get to host Darjeeling’s most-awaited Scottish guests of the winter first.

The nine Scotland-bred tragopans headed for Darjeeling zoo from Calcutta by road since Thursday night will stop at Kurseong for a month or so to acclimatise before being taken to their new home for a captive breeding programme.

The group — three Satyr and six Temminck’s tragopans — had landed in the city on an Emirates flight and put in a special van for their onward journey within a couple of hours of their arrival. “We expect them to reach the hills by tomorrow morning,” A.K. Jha, the director of the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, told Metro on Friday afternoon.

Tourists from Calcutta visiting Darjeeling later this year might be able to see the birds who had made a stopover in their city. “They will be quarantined for a month at the Dow Hill pheasantry in Kurseong. After a month, we will probably keep a pair for public viewing,” zoo director Jha said.

Another zoo official said the birds were doing well but would need to be handled “very, very carefully” for them to survive the rigours of the long journey. Last August, six out of 12 tragopans flown in from Scotland via Singapore were found dead by the time they touched down in Calcutta. The cause of death was apparently dehydration.

Scotland’s Royal Zoological Society, which runs Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, has donated the second lot of nine tragopans to the Darjeeling zoo for a captive breeding programme.

The satellite zoo at Dow Hill will also be used as a breeding centre for the Satyr and Temminck’s tragopans, the first one a “near-threatened” species.

“The target is for the Darjeeling zoo to learn the skills of breeding tragopans using birds reared in Europe,” said John Corder, the vice-president of the World Pheasant Association. “The following breeding season they will be provided with eggs taken from wild nests in India. These eggs, when hatched, will become the founding members of the Indian conservation breeding programme and, because they will be raised in captivity, they should not suffer from stress in the same way as wild-caught adult birds have done in the past.”