Assam state zoo first to breed endangered Hargila

The Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden and Aaranyak have jointly attained a landmark achievement by successfully hatching a pair of Greater Adjutant chicks in an artificial platform within the zoo enclosure, in the first-ever experiment of its kind.

Assam State Zoo DFO Mr Tejas Mariswamy expressed his heartfelt New Year wishes through this good news mentioning that “We are very proud to share this news with you all. This happened for the first time in a Zoo. Before this we don’t have any report that this endangered bird has bred in any zoo or any captivity.

This rarest of storks, the Hargila is currently on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss stemming from indiscriminate felling of big trees and dwindling wetlands. Biologist Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, who leads the Greater Adjutant Conservation Project of Aaranyak informed, “In 2017, Aaranyak started collaborating with Assam State Zoo with a new idea of creating assisted breeding platforms for the captive Greater Adjutant Storks. The birds nested since 2017 but had failed to hatch so far. Finally we found success on 26th November 2019 when the first chick hatched and it has been the first recorded pair of Greater Adjutant to breed in an artificial platform. It was only possible due to active support of the DFO of Assam state Zoo and dedicated team of doctors lead by Dr Bijoy Gogoi and Animal keepers – Mr Rajani Kanta Deka, and Mr Basumatary” It was a double success when after ten days a second hatchling emerged from the breeding platform.

Dr. Barman informed how two bamboo platforms of ten feet were constructed within the enclosure. The platform made for the nest was one meter in breadth echoing the natural size of Hargila nests. Nesting materials used by these birds in natural ecosystem were closely studied from available literature and direct observation which were collected inside the zoo. The nesting material was supplied on the onset of breeding season during August. Once the birds started gathering nesting materials in September, fresh nesting materials were supplied every week initially and later on every alternate day. Food supply was increased by four times by weight consulting with experts on Ciconidae group. Since the birds were not in the wild, much care was needed for egg nesting material collection, foods supplies etc. The commotion created by zoo visitors were also monitored and care was taken so that the birds did not suffer from disturbance, informed Zoo officials. This is the first ever such experiment on breeding Greater Adjutant stork inside a Zoo and success of this project shows that captive breeding of this species is possible in the near future.

The Endangered Greater Adjutant stork (Leptoptilosdubius) is one of the rarest species of Storks out of twenty species of Storks in the world. In India, eight species of residential storks are found, out of which Greater Adjutant is one of them. Once abundantly distributed in Southeast Asia, this stork is now restricted to a few isolated pockets in Assam and Bihar in India and PrekToal in Cambodia. This colonial birds breeds in traditional nesting colonies within thickly populated villages in Assam and breeds in tall trees species including Anthocephaluscadamba(Kadam), Artocarpusleukochuwa (Dewa), Pithecellobiummonadephum, BombaxCeiba (Simul), Tamarindusindica (Teteli), Trewianudifera (Bhelkol), Gmelinaarborea (Gomari).

Habitat loss, poaching and poisoning are the major threats to the species. Cutting down of nesting trees by the tree owners and infrastructural construction has resulted into a breeding failure of the species and many historical breeding colonies have gone missing in its historical distribution range.

Hon’ble Minister of Forest, Sri Parimal Shuklabadiya congratulated the entire team for this successful breeding program and wished more success in future. He is personally expected visit the Zoo on the New Year eve to wish the new born chicks.

Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar , CEO of Aarnayk said “ report of successful breeding of Greater Adjutant at Assam State Zoo resulting into birth of chicks are indeed a great news

Cathy King ,a long legged water bird specialist and chair of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and Ciconiifomes and Phoenicoptericormes Taxon Advisor Group through a what app message congratulated the team and said “Although Greater Adjutant storks have been kept in zoos throughout the world, they have not successfully bred until now. The captive breeding of this species at Guwahati Zoo is a great contribution to the conservation of this endangered species. This breeding could only occur if the birds have a suitable environment and good care”.

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