While the world went around growing and expanding its urban sprawl and piling its garbage in the natural spaces, a remarkable bird was slowly disappearing to the non-existence where it once was abundant. Standing five feet tall with wingspan of about eight feet, the Greater Adjutant today fights daily bouts for its survival in the corners of Guwahati and Bhagalpur in India.
Greater Adjutant was once one of the most abundant storks in the world with a range all across south-east Asia. Today with merely 1200-1500 individuals left, this Endangered bird is found breeding only in India and Cambodia. Being a bird of the wetlands, it suffered a fate similar to its habitat. As one-third of natural wetlands disappeared in India due to urbanization, agricultural expansion and pollution, the Adjutant Stork also disappeared from many of its former habitats.
These carnivorous birds are largely scavengers although their diet also consists of fish, rodents and snakes, easily found near wetlands. Their large size allows them to even swallow big bones as whole, giving them their Assamese name Hargila (har means bone, gila is to swallow). With their size and behavior, they act as cleaners of their respective ecosystems and also perform as top predators in wetlands, making their presence important. As these wetland systems are altered and the large nesting trees are chopped, the survival of these birds has become difficult. Only a few sites remain today where they are still seen and are found breeding.
Today one-third of the global population of these storks live around a garbage dump site on the periphery of the bustling city of Guwahati, feeding on carcasses and waste from meat shops. Situated near Deepor Beel, one the largest wetland in Assam, it forms one of the last stronghold for these birds in the world. Despite its unappealing and intimidating looks, luckily these birds have found support in people who have been doing relentless work for the protection of these birds through community engagement. The ‘Hargila Army’ led by Purnima Devi Barman has been gathering community support for these birds through handicrafts and awareness campaigns. Their efforts in the past 12 years have allowed these storks to exist in stable and growing numbers in Assam.
A surprising discovery of breeding pairs in the state of Bihar in 2006 allowed for stronger hopes for the recovery of these storks. A single colony of breeding pairs was found in the floodplains of Bhagalpur district which lit up the conservation status of these birds. Birds were lucky here as well, Arvind Mishra from Mandar Nature Club has been working with local communities for a long now to protect these birds. By generating interest in villagers towards these birds and educating them about their role as pest controllers in their farmlands, Arvind has been successful so far in providing a safe haven for these birds in Bhagalpur. With proximity to rivers such as Ganga and Kosi and an abundance of large trees, Bhagalpur may just become the next stronghold for these bird’s future.
With hope lingering strongly in India for the return of these birds, it is time this overlooked bird gets its deserved limelight and gathers concern and support from global audience.
The Habitats Trust, in collaboration with Tripintoe productions, presents the story of these magnificent Adjutant Storks and the people who strive to save them through an episode in the docuseries “Wild You Were Sleeping”. With the hope to elicit empathy and generate awareness among the audience for these lesser-known species, the series aims to bring us closer to the wildlife that resides in close proximity to us.
Catch the first episode on Adjutant Storks here.
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