Bits on birds wow children - Poacher-turned-saviour shares insight

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  • Published 23.04.12

Ali Hussain never had any schooling but he has names of 500 birds at his fingertips, both English and Hindi. On Sunday, the poacher-turned-conservationist met 50-odd children at Kilkari Bal Bhavan to share his knowledge on what he knows best — birds.

The children, too, hardly missed any opportunity to learn from the man who has even worked with Salim Ali, the “Birdman of India”. It was Ali who had turned Hussain away from killing birds and engaged him in saving the feathered creatures, the children came to know during the interactive session.

Rahul Kumar, a Class V student of Rajkiya Madhya Vidyalaya, Saidpur, asked Hussain how he turned into a conservationist from being a bird poacher. The 64-year-old conservationist said: “I was a poacher before I met Salim Ali, the famous ornithologist and former president of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). I learned the skill of poaching from my father, Ali Jaan, whom I used to accompany on his job. When I grew up, I also took up my father’s profession to earn a living. But when I met Salim Ali in the 1960s, my opinion changed. I started thinking about the conservation of birds. Ali offered me a job at BNHS which I happily accepted.”

A bird trapper at BNHS, Hussain lives at Majhuali village in Begusarai and assists scientists on projects.

Hussain told Manish Kumar, a Class X student of Rose Public High School, that experience taught him the names of about 500 birds, even though he was illiterate. “I have worked with many bird experts over the years. While working with them, I got to know many things about birds. Today, I know the English and Hindi names of around 500 species of birds, all because of that experience,” he said.

Replying to a query of 16-year-old Navin Kumar, Hussain said: “I determine the sex of a bird through its feather, body movement and other characteristics.”

On Saturday, Hussain had visited Patna zoo with some children from Kilkari to tell them about identifying various birds based on their features.

One of the participants at Sunday’s session, Abhyuday Kumar, said: “It was wonderful to know about birds from him. He may be illiterate, but he knows both the English and Hindi names of birds. This is amazing.”

Apart from surprising the children with his knowledge on birds, Hussain spoke about species such as Pintail duck, Purple Moorhen, Indian Roller and house crows. He also talked about various ways of trapping a bird. One of the interesting facts that he threw to the children was: “A flamingo does not sit while laying eggs, as they are heavy birds with thin legs.”

Hussain, however, expressed concern over species such as crow and Saras crane that are gradually becoming extinct. “It is sad that many varieties of birds are becoming extinct. People need to be concerned about this,” he added.

Anita Thakur, the programme officer of Kilkari Bihar Bal Bhavan, said: “We are planning to organise one more session with Hussain soon. If everything goes well, the next meeting will be held at Kanwar lake in Begusarai, a favourite destination of migratory birds in the state,” Thakur added.