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Bird guardians rue turmoil

Bongaigaon, Feb. 23: Tension in the BTAD is impacting conservation efforts of the white-bellied heron — a “critically endangered” bird species.

“Some nesting spots have been detected in the deep forests of Chirang, Kokrajhar, Baksa and Udalguri districts where movement have been restricted by the district administration concerned and security forces for safety reasons. Hence, the study on the bird has been affected in the BTAD since the past few years,” Arnab Bose, general secretary of local wildlife organisation Nature’s Foster here, said yesterday.

The white-bellied heron — the world’s second-largest heron — has an estimated global population of less than 250. It is a species on the verge of extinction, with a small and rapidly declining population.

Bose said Rebecca Pradhan, a plant ecologist who works as an activist for Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) — a Bhutan-based NGO — met the Nature’s Foster activists last month in Bongaigaon and provided scientific account on the species.

“Undisturbed rich forest in the foothill areas in Bhutan provides the rare bird a place to breed and flourish with adequate fish and other aquatic organisms in streams and rivers as food,” Bose said.

He said the species helps keeping the waterbodies healthy and clean by eating up harmful aquatic organisms.

According to Nature’s Foster, Bhutan is the first country to have successfully raised white-bellied heron chick by “captive breeding” and Pradhan is the first researcher of the species in the world.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had enlisted the bird as “endangered” species after 1994 and “critically endangered” after 2007, Bose added. He said they had first sighted the rare bird at Koilamoila in Chirang district in 2008. Since then, they geared up their efforts to trace the species in some other places in the northern part of four districts — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Udalguri and Baksa — in the BTAD.

Bose said factors like habitat destruction, pesticides deposition, sand gravel mining, forest encroachment and others are pushing the species on the verge of extinction.

Arunava Gupta, project associate of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), said to spread awareness on the rare bird they have formed a local protection group — Heron Guardians — in villages near the probable nesting locations. With the help of the local community, “no-go” areas have been marked in forest, prohibiting human movement during nesting period of the bird.

“Constant monitoring has been on, besides trans-boundary collaboration with like-minded nature activists for protection of the bird,” Gupta said.


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