After more than a century, the waterfowl of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam have come out of the shadow of the one-horned rhino.
A report published on Saturday by The Hindu stated that on December 19 and December 20, 2018, the Kaziranga National Park authorities conducted a baseline survey of waterfowl which is crucial for the wetland-dominated ecosystem of the world’s best-known habitat of the Rhinoceros unicornis.
The report said, this is the first time that the focus of attention in the 113-year-old Kaziranga, which is also a tiger reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, has shifted from the ‘big four’ — rhino, elephant, Bengal tiger and Asiatic water buffalo.
The report quoted Rabindra Sarma, Kaziranga’s research officer, as saying that the survey was important because the park did not have much data on its avian wealth, specifically the waterfowl living in 92 permanent and more than 250 seasonal water bodies in the park.
The report quoted Sarma as saying: “Though the rhino prefers grasslands, it can be called a wetland animal because it needs to wallow and depends on submerged vegetation in shallow water bodies. A good avifauna reflects on the health of the ecosystem, and the population trend will help us know whether or not the conditions have deteriorated.”
The report also quoted Rohini Ballave Saikia, Kaziranga’s Divisional Forest Officer, as saying that eight teams comprising 19 birdwatchers and forest guards carried out the survey for the baseline date. The teams covered the eastern, central and western ranges of the 430 sq km Kiaziranga National Park.
The KNP has five ranges — four on the southern bank of river Brahmaputra and one on the northern bank.
The report quoted Saikia as saying: “A total of 10,412 birds were counted, covering 80 species from 21 families, during the waterfowl census in 19 places nourished by eight major water bodies in the park.”
During the survey, the enumerators counted 8,074 ducks and geese from the family Anatidae.
Of the waterfowls, bar-headed geese accounted for over 3,000, followed by gadwalls, common teals, lesser whistling ducks, northern pintails, greylag geese, mallards, Indian spot-billed ducks, Eurasian wigeons, ruddy shelducks, northern shovelers, ferruginous ducks, common pochards, and Chinese spot-billed ducks.
The populations of garganeys, tufted ducks, the critically endangered Baer’s pochards, falcated ducks and common pygmy geese were among the lowest in the ducks and geese category.
Saikia further said: “Other rare birds sighted at the water bodies included the critically endangered red-headed vulture, the endangered Pallas’s fish eagle and the greater adjutant stork, and the vulnerable greater spotted eagle, great hornbill, lesser adjutant stork, woolly-necked stork, and swamp francolin.”
the report also quoted research officer Sarma as saying that survey on birds could have been done earlier but no records were maintained. He said: “We did it scientifically and systematically for the first time by dividing the roosting areas into blocks and ensuring over-counting or under-counting was kept to a minimum.”
The bulk of the waterfowl population was in the eastern range mainly because of the expansive Sohola beel that is formed by six shallow water bodies.
Sarma added: “Now that we have the baseline data, we plan to broaden the scope of the survey in the coming years and keep training interested college or university students for periodic exercises.”