Kaziranga waterfowl species count increases to 112

Park authorities said better conservation of wetlands in the rhino domain has attracted more birds, including the painted stork and Tundra swan for the first time

The number of waterfowl species in the 1,302 sq km Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve has increased to 112, the third annual estimation of aquatic birds in the one-horned rhino habitat has revealed.

The survey was conducted over two days from February 6 by 35 teams comprising observers, enumerators, volunteers and media personnel. The report was released on Tuesday.

Officials said a total of 93,491 birds belonging to 112 species and 22 families were recorded. The highest number of species was from the family anatidae comprising ducks and geese.

The total wetland birds counted was almost thrice the number — 34,284 belonging to 96 species — during the second census in 2020 and nine times that of the 10,412 recorded during the baseline survey in 2018.

The waterfowls counted in 2018 belonged to 80 species under 21 families.

“The increase in the bird count can be attributed to better conservation of water bodies and lesser human interference within the 482 sq km core area of the park and sensitive areas beyond,” Kaziranga’s Field Director P. Sivakumar told The Hindu.

The 116-year-old Kaziranga has 92 permanent and more than 250 seasonal water bodies besides streams and rivers such as the Diffolu meandering through it. Attention from the park’s “big five” – rhino, elephant, Bengal tiger, Asiatic water buffalo and swamp deer – was also given to waterfowls in view of their ecological significance.

“Data on avian wealth is important because the wetlands nourish Kaziranga’s ecosystem. Increase or decrease in the number of birds is indicative of the park’s health,” Rabindra Sarma, the park’s research officer, said.

Notably, the area under wetlands in Kaziranga reduced from 8.5% of the total area to 6.7% over a period of 30 years till 1977. Efforts to check siltation, erosion and fragmentation of the ‘beels’ (wetlands) and remove invasive species of plants have breathed fresh life into the park’s ecosystem, officials said.

Most of the birds were recorded in Kaziranga’s Agoratoli Range because of Sohola, the largest of the park’s 92 perennial wetlands, situated there. The Laokhowa-Burachapori stretch on the western edge had a sizeable number too.

Mr. Sivakumar said the Eurasian coot accounted for more than 50% of the birds enumerated. A total of 50,432 Eurasian coots were counted followed by the bar-headed geese at 7,860 and common teal at 4,667 followed by the northern pintail.

Among the six new species recorded in Kaziranga this time were the painted stork and Tundra duck.

The other species with sizeable numbers include gadwall, common coot, lesser whistling duck, Indian spot-billed duck, little cormorant, ferruginous duck, tufted duck, Eurasian wigeon, Asian openbill, northern lapwing, ruddy shelduck and spot-billed pelican.

Kaziranga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, is considered one of the best conserved wildlife preserves on earth.

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