GUWAHATI, Feb 14 - Decades ago, some white winged wood ducks (deo hah) were taken to Europe by tea planters from the continent. Today, when numbers of the Assam’s State Bird – listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – is fast dwindling, the State is eyeing the offsprings of those in Europe for conservation breeding.
Forest officials here say dozens of these ducks are currently housed at Czech Republic’s Zoo Zlin, and some believe they are progenies of those taken along by the European tea planters from Assam.
The State forest department will bring five individuals ducks – two males and three females – from the Czech zoo as part of a joint international animal breeding programme.
“The Ministry of Environment & Forest has given us the nod. We are awaiting the permissions from the DGFT (Director General of Foreign Trade) and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) which should come by March end,” Divisional Forest Officer at the State Zoo here Tejas Mariswamy told The Assam Tribune.
A team from the Czech zoo had visited the State zoo here and found the place suitable for captive breeding of the ducks.
In return, the State zoo is giving four hill mynas to the European zoo.
The State forest department plans to release offsprings of the duck in the wild following their captive breeding in the State zoo.
While catching of the duck is prohibited, none of the zoos in India have the avian species.
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.
Conservationists feel their numbers have been going down due to depletion of habitat and lack of targeted conservation efforts. Another reason for the fast decline in population is collection of ducklings and eggs by villagers.
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 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’ population is suspected to have decreased very rapidly owing to widespread loss, degradation and disturbance of lowland riverine habitats. Resultant small and fragmented population 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 fast.