In a feat described as a landmark development by conservationists, a pair of greater adjutant storks — a species facing extinction — was artificially bred in Assam State Zoo and Botanical Garden here recently.
This is probably the first instance in the world where artificial breeding of greater adjutant stork — called hargila in Assam — was successfully done inside a zoo. “We haven’t so far had any report of this endangered bird being bred in any zoo or in captivity,” said Tejas Mariswamy, divisional forest officer of the zoo.
A team of conservationists belonging to Aaranyak, a biodiversity conservation group, had started the project in cooperation with the zoo in 2017.
“The birds nested since 2017 but had failed to hatch. Finally, we found success on November 26, 2019, when the first chick hatched. It was a double delight when after 10 days, the second hatchling emerged from the breeding platform,” said Purnima Devi Barman, who leads the greater adjutant stork conservation project of Aaranyak.
The greater adjutant stork, one of the 20 stork species in the world, is on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss stemming from indiscriminate felling of big trees, dwindling wetlands, poaching and poisoning.
Eight stork species, including this, are found in India.
“Once abundantly distributed in Southeast Asia, this species is now restricted to some isolated pockets in Assam and Bihar in India and Prek Toal in Cambodia,” said a statement.
“These colonial birds breed in traditional nesting colonies in thickly populated villages in Assam and on tall trees such as anthocephaluscadamba (Kadam), artocarpusleukochuwa (Dewa), Pithecellobiummonadephum, BombaxCeiba (Simul), Tamarindusindica (Teteli), Trewianudifera (Bhelkol), Gmelinaarborea (Gomari),” the statement added.
Barman said two 10-foot high bamboo platforms were constructed within the zoo enclosure for breeding. “They were one metre in breadth, resembling the natural size of stork nests. Nesting materials used by the birds in natural ecosystem were closely studied from available literature and direct observation, which were collected inside the zoo,” she said.
Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, CEO of Aaranyak, termed the breeding a significant biodiversity success story. “Although greater adjutant storks have been kept in zoos throughout the world, they have not been successfully bred until now. The captive breeding at Guwahati zoo goes a long way in their conservation,” said the statement quoting Cathy King, a specialist in long-legged water birds and the chair of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.