Jorhat, Nov. 19: A large number of open-billed storks died when forest department personnel allegedly opened fire at three trees where these birds were nesting to make way for the four-lane National Highway 37 here.
Honorary wildlife warden of Jorhat district, Santa Sarma, told The Telegraph today that she had learnt from local villagers that forest department personnel opened fire at the colony of open-billed storks a few days back to scare them off from the trees at Charingia area on the outskirts here.
"I am told that many birds, mostly fledglings, died in the attack and the rest of the birds flew away. The birds did not return to the nests after that," she said.
Sarma, a renowned ornithologist, said she was so angry at such a "horrific act" by the department that she has decided to resign from the wildlife warden's post, which she has been holding since 1998.
Sarma, who is also president of an environmental NGO, Prakriti, had earlier appealed to the forest department not to cut down the trees as the open-billed storks were nesting on them for several years and mowing them down would leave them "homeless".
Prakriti had also suggested to the authorities that the three trees could be kept within the divider between the two lanes of the highway for the sake of the birds.
The particular colony of open-billed storks has inhabited these trees for many generations and even though there is huge traffic on the highway, the birds had never changed their habitat.
A large number of trees have been felled in the last few months along National Highway 37 to make way for conversion of the two-lane road into a four-lane one, to ease traffic on the highway which connects Upper Assam and lower Assam. The highway also connects several districts of eastern Arunachal Pradesh.
Sarma said the villagers decided to remain silent on the issue since they have been paid compensation by the authorities for taking possession of the land on which the three particular trees are located.
However, divisional forest officer of Jorhat S. Saikia said that it was a totally false and baseless allegation that the department had taken such a step to scare off the birds.
"We have written to the National Highways Authorities of India to realign the road if possible on the particular stretch for the sake of the birds," he said.
Saikia said there are nearly 50 nests of open-billed storks in the three trees and the birds would leave as soon as the chicks grew up. "We have cut down many trees in the area to make way for the construction of the highway but have not touched the three trees till now," he said.