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Banyan collapses, 800 rare storks die
Asian openbill storks: Crushed to death

Guwahati, Sept. 16: Over 800 endangered Asian openbill storks were killed and several hundred injured when a century-old banyan tree on which they were nesting collapsed last night.

“We have counted 800 dead birds and the number is rising,” wildlife warden Arup Ballab Goswami told The Telegraph from Banglung Shyam village in Karbi Anglong district.

A rescue team from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) near Kaziranga is treating the injured birds, most of which have broken wings or legs and are critical.

The casualties were so heavy because the birds were “drowsy” at night and also because they have relatively slow reflexes, said Kula Jyoti Lahkar, an ornithologist with the Bombay Natural History Society.

“They were crushed under the branches,” he said from Mumbai.

Prashanta Boro, a CWRC veterinarian, said most of the injured birds had not yet been rescued since the area is marshy and is surrounded by thick jungles. “We have rescued about 70,” he said.

Dibyadhar Shyam, a forest official from the village, said the birds had been nesting in that tree for over 50 years and their number was growing each year because the villagers, who are Buddhists, never harmed them.

“These birds flew away during January-March every year but returned again to nest,” he said.

Warden Goswami said the tree was over 100 years old. “There are three banyan trees clustered near a Buddhist temple. One got uprooted last night since its roots had grown weak. One portion of the tree fell into a pond, another in a villager’s backyard.”

Shyam said the tree probably collapsed under the birds’ weight. “We heard the sound of branches cracking around 9pm and then a big thud.”

He added that most of the nests had chicks since this was the breeding season. “Almost all the chicks died,” Goswami said.

The Asian openbill stork, Anastomus oscitans, is found mainly in India, Sri Lanka and some Southeast Asian countries. It breeds near wetlands, builds its nests on big trees, and feeds on snails, frogs and large insects.

The Banglung Shyam village had one of the largest colonies of the bird in eastern Assam after river island Majuli and Kaziranga National Park.

Forest officials said no survey on the stork population had been carried out in Assam in recent times. “The population of this species is decreasing every year,” an official said.

Yesterday, about 20 storks were rescued from Disangmukh on the Brahmaputra’s banks in Sivasagar district by a CWCR team. The birds were marooned after the tree they were nesting on got uprooted in a storm on Sunday night.

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