Let me start from the last day of our visit, when we were on the road to catch the flight back to Bangalore from Guwahati. I was quite keen to have a glimpse of the endangered Greater Adjutant, a large congregation of which is seen just ahead of the airport. With precise directions from the amiable Manju Barua of the Wild Grass at Kaziranga, we were able to find the location…we had to just sniff our way ahead as these birds roost amidst a large landfill at the edge of the Deepor Bhil Ramsar Site!
Greater Adjutant Stork, is the world’s most endangered of the stork species, there are just 1000 of them left in the world. Earlier, widely distributed throughout northern and eastern India and many countries of south and south-east Asia, it is currently distributed only in Assam and Bihar in India. The Brahmaputra Valley in Assam is considered the last stronghold of the endangered stork, locally called ‘Hargila’, and harbours more than 80 per cent of the global population of the species.
It is one of the most striking birds…I was spellbound when I saw this giant bird up close. They have a special aura around them, as they stand quietly, unlike any creature I have seen. With their bald heads, wrinkly skin, and slow gaits, adjutant storks may strike some people as ungainly, but they are quite stately in their demeanour. In military parlance, an adjutant is a senior captain who stands at attention as his superiors file in, and true to their name, adjutant storks are known to stand motionless for long periods of time!
The sight of these majestic birds roosting amidst the spoils of urban waste is an unsettling image. As we were watching, trucks from the city drove in, discharging mounds of garbage. This attracted the attention of droves of ragpickers who immediately started sorting them out to salvage something of value. The birds too got into the act and it was a synchronized search with both of them sorting the trash, standing side by side. These birds juxtaposed with crushed beer cans and plastic waste is a commentary at one level of our environmental negligence but also of the fragility of human existence. It is a symbol of many conflicting elements….a testimony to the brittle co-existence of life force and waste.
There’s something heart wrenchingly sad about spotting an endangered bird on a garbage dump amidst ragpickers. I was a melancholy witness to those who are exiled…
Here are a few glimpses of this majestic bird...