After much drama stork with a plastic ring around its beak rescued —

black-necked stork (pix SShukla) Representative image

black-necked stork (pix SShukla) Representative image

After a week-long rescue operation, the Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) was rescued from the Najafgarh Jheel in the state of Haryana in India on 13 June 2018 morning. An eight-member team including rescuers from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Nature Conservation Foundation and state’s wildlife department rescued the bird when it lost strength to fly. The ring entangled around the bird’s beak was made of rubber.

After the stork was caught it was kept in a recovering facility maintained by the Gurgaon forest officials for two days and finally released at Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, about 15km from Gurugram City on 15 June.

The team of Times of India (TOI) visited the rescue spot and found that tremendous efforts were being put in by the rescue team which used drones; field scope and bamboo trap to locate and catch the bird. The members of the rescue team were Rakesh Ahlawat, Sonu Dalal, Anil Gandas, Qasim, Dr. Debasish (a veterinarian), Sunil Kumar, and Krishan Kumar. The team is accompanaid by a drone pilot Ajay.

Bird rescue operation became campaign

A birder Manoj Nair first spotted the hapless stork, a ‘near threatened’ species, with its beak caught in a plastic ring from a bottle. The wildlife department was alerted and the rescue operation was started.

“I was shocked to see a black-necked stork there, struggling to remove a plastic ring from its beak. I clicked a few pictures and alerted the authorities and other birders so that they could rescue it,” he said, adding that the situation was making it difficult for the bird to even drink water.

The bird in question is an adult male and nearly 4 to 5 feet tall. Earlier it was spotted at the Basai wetland, about 22 km from the spot it was rescued, on 8 June morning by a three-member team from the wildlife department. There is a heap of plastic waste near the Basai wetland. A plastic compressing and recycling unit set up by some private player has been operating in the area, which has now been removed by the authorities.

After the alert sounded several guards and birders visited Basai wetland as well as other nearby wetlands, including Najafgarh Lake and Sultanpur bird sanctuary, all situated around the national capital, Delhi, but the bird was not to be found. The problem was the plastic ring was not colourful hence not easily visible.

The authorities also requested birders to assist in the rescue operation. Vinod Kumar, additional principal chief conservator of forest, said, “We have already deployed a team to rescue the bird. We are exploring several methods that can help in the rescue. But we need the help of birders. I request all birders to be on alert and contact us whenever the bird is spotted.”

The animal’s plight and the rescue operations were widely reported by news media, ever since the bird was spotted. But the rescue mission was largely propagated and fuelled by social media. The picture of the bird with the ring around its beak was shared widely by birders and residents of Gurgaon on social media, triggering cries for a rescue operation. Vinod Kumar, Gurgaon’s additional principal chief conservator of forest, says, “Such incidents happen quite often in Basai because of the plastic waste in the area. Often, birds die too, but these incidents don’t come to light because nobody is able to spot these birds. This time, we – and this bird – were lucky that a birder spotted it and posted the picture on Facebook. It was our duty to save the bird. We wanted to send the message that each bird’s life is important.”

As word of rescue spread over social media, more birders and organisations volunteered to help. Authorities from the Delhi Zoo and organisations like Bombay Natural History Society and Nature Conservation Foundation came forward to help. Anil Gandass, a Gurgaon-based wildlife photographer, helped spot the bird. He used his powerful camera to click all the storks in the wetlands till he managed to find the one with the ring stuck on its beak. “It was a tiring task and wouldn’t have been possible without the zoom lenses and camera. Most of the time, it is impossible to locate these birds as the visitors aren’t allowed anywhere near them. That’s where the camera came in handy,” he says. Sonu Dalal, a birdwatcher working with Nature Conservation Foundation, says, “We had to constantly change our approach for the rescue. Initially, we tried to set a trap and catch the bird but it did not fall for it. Then, we thought of using a drone but that would have endangered other birds so we used that as a last resort. Eventually, on Tuesday, we had to chase and tire the bird, so that we could catch it by hand.”

Before the bird was finally rescued the district wildlife department approached the Delhi Zoo authorities and BNHS. Despite the efforts of various teams, individuals and organizations bird could not be caught as it was a healthy bird and would fly off on slightest danger. After doing all they could experts realized that it might take two-three days to rescue it. Rakesh Ahlawat, working with NGO Nature Conservation Foundation, said, “We spotted the bird at around 8.30am on Friday. It was a healthy adult bird and immediately flew away. I think we will be able to rescue the bird when it stops flying after it becomes a little weak as it cannot take any food or water.”

How the trapping attempts failed

1. A drone was flown over Najafgarh Lake to spot the bird. The pilot took it to a height of 100 m, as instructed by the wildlife inspector Sunil Kumar. Since the internet connectivity was poor, live video captured by the drone camera couldn’t be viewed.

2. A rescuer, Qasim from BNHS, with a hide and glue trap walked 500m into the marshes to catch the bird. He used a glue trap made of bamboo and a hide made of leaves to conceal himself. It took him 2 hours to get within 50 metres of the bird, but as he was about to use the trap, it got stuck in the marshy surface.

3. Next strategy deployed by wildlife enthusiast Anil Gandas, wildlife inspector Sunil Kumar and wildlife guard Krishan Kumar when the bird was spotted on a dry surface. The team gradually closed in on the bird, but failed because the red-wattled lapwing, which was close by alerted the stork and it flew away. (Times of India)

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