Assam's white-winged wood duck is threatened

“I am Assam’s State bird Deo hah. My current status is threatened. Please do not kill us, nor collect our ducklings or eggs” – reads a new campaign poster of wildlife NGO Aaranyak, starkly describing the current status of the State bird, the white-winged wood duck (Asarcornis scutulata). As the rhino continues to be the focus of wildlife conservation in the State, the numbers of the white-winged wood duck are dwindling slowly and silently with little or no attention coming from the State Government. The exact population of this duck in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is not known, but according to work done by naturalist Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury and researchers of Aaranyak, its population could range between 150-400 in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. “We had conducted an estimate in 1994-95 and had found around 450 of them only in Upper Assam. I don’t think any other estimate has been carried out after that. I feel the number has gone down, given the depletion in habitat and lack of targeted conservation efforts,” Choudhury said.

According to Choudhury, the population of the duck is spread across the forests of Dihing-Patkai, Upper Dihing, Doomdooma RF, Dangori RF, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Nameri NP and Manas NP. “The duck needs suitable habitat to breed – a pool within a forest. Hunting is not much. But yes, people collect the duckling and eggs,” he said. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the bird as “endangered” because it “has a very small and fragmented population which is undergoing a very rapid and continuing decline as a result of the loss of and disturbance to riverine habitats”. “This species’s population is suspected to have decreased very rapidly owing to the widespread loss, degradation and disturbance of lowland riverine habitats. Resultant small and fragmented populations are susceptible to hunting – opportunistic collection of eggs and chicks – and other stochastic events,” it says. Birdlife International says the population of the forest duck is no more than 1,000 and it is decreasing. Members of Aaranyak recently initiated a survey in villages of eastern Assam with regard to awareness of the State bird of Assam among the villagers and realised that intensive awareness among the villagers was needed to conserve it. The NGO is planning a series of awareness activities among the fringe villagers in eastern Assam. “The survival of the State bird depends on how we shall be able to conserve the key habitats of the white-winged wood duck in eastern Assam that includes Doomdooma RF, Dirak RF, Philobari RF, etc., where human pressure for collection of forest products is in existence. Some villagers collect the ducklings and eggs from the key habitat of the duck without realising that its global population is less than one thousand. We have decided to create awareness among mass people using a poster recently designed by Aaranyak member Keshab Gogoi which will be distributed in villages through village level institutions,” Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, secretary general and CEO of Aaranyak, said.

Source: The Assam Tribune, March 2017