150 openbill storks die in Assam

Guwahati, Sept. 25 : Over 150 endangered Asian openbill storks, most of them chicks, died and several were injured, as strong winds damaged their nests and blew them off trees at remote Banglung Shyam village in Karbi Anglong district of Assam last night.

Over 800 storks had died in the village in September two years ago when a banyan tree where the birds nested in large numbers collapsed because of continuous rain and strong winds.

Sushen Shyam, an employee attached to Karbi Anglong (east) forest division, said over phone that the tragedy could have taken place around 10.30 last night when the winds were extremely strong.

“We came to know about the incident only this morning when we saw the entire area littered with bird nests and dying chicks,” Shyam, who hails from the village, said.

He said the villagers had launched a rescue operation to save the surviving birds. “We put back at least 60 chicks on the tree. We have no idea whether these will survive. But we noticed a few chicks being attended to by their parents,” he added. The villagers also buried the dead birds.

The Banglung Shyam village has one of the largest colonies of Asian openbill storks in eastern Assam after the river island of Majuli and Kaziranga National Park. The birds arrive in the area every year in June to breed in three banyan trees clustered near a Buddhist temple. Since one of the trees collapsed in 2008 under the weight of the nesting birds during a storm, storks have been nesting on the other two.

Birds have been nesting in these trees for over 50 years and their number has been growing each year because the villagers, who are Buddhists, never harm them. Such has been the villagers’ respect for the birds that they held a prayer meeting to condole their death in 2008. An NGO had even promised to install a memorial in the area to commemorate the “biggest such tragedy in the state”.

The Asian openbill stork, Anastomus oscitans, is found mainly in India, Sri Lanka and some Southeast Asian countries.

These birds breed near wetlands, build nests on big trees, and feed on snails, frogs and large insects.

Honorary wildlife warden Arup Ballab Goswami said over phone from Golaghat that the village was located in a remote place, about 40km from the town, and news from these areas travelled slowly.

“We came to know about the incident only this afternoon,” he said.

A team of veterinarians from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conversation rushed to the area after receiving the information around noon.

“Our team will reach the place only in the evening. We will be able to provide treatment to the injured birds only tomorrow,” an official at CWRC said.

The centre had rescued several birds in 2008 too, given them treatment at the centre and then released them.