From bad omen to treasured friends: how Hargila found home in Assam
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Doomdooma: Tucked away in the remote Tinsukia district of upper Assam lies the quaint village of Dholla, a place where the members of the rare stork family, known as Hargila, are held in the highest regard.

Located 56 km from Tinsukia town and 19 km from Doomdooma, Dholla is a hidden gem that is slowly gaining recognition for its unique relationship with these magnificent birds. Despite being over 550 km from the capital of Guwahati, this remote village has become a hot spot for bird-watching enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Locally referred to as Hargila, meaning “one with swallow bones,” the greater adjutant stork is a scavenger with a crucial role in the food chain.

Every year, these rare Hargila make their way to the trees in Dholla, where they nest and hatch their younglings. The villagers of Dholla view these birds not as a mere sight to behold, but as cherished members of their community. They go to great lengths to ensure that the birds are protected and respected, and they take great pride in the fact that the Hargila returns to their village year after year.

The local forest department also ensures that no harm occurs to the birds.

The villagers of Dholla view the thirty Hargila residing in their village not just as mere birds, but as cherished members of their community. With over 50 to 60 chicks hatching every year, these magnificent creatures have found a safe haven in the trees of Dholla, protected and nurtured by the villagers.

Purnima Devi Burman, a wildlife biologist based in Guwahati, has led a successful campaign to change the public perception of the Adjutant stork. “Just a few years ago, the bird was seen as a bad omen and even feared by the villagers, but today it is regarded as a symbol of hope,” Burman said.

The tourists visiting Dholla are in awe of the loving coexistence between the humans and the birds, and they leave with mesmerizing images of the Hargila captured in their cameras. The local people take great pride in the protection of these birds and feel happy to see them thriving in their village.

The greater adjutant stork, once found in northern and eastern India, as well as south and southeast Asia, is now confined to only three locations in the world: Assam, Bihar, and Cambodia.

According to the International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Assam is home to roughly two-thirds of the remaining 1,200 greater adjutant storks in the world.

The late Dr Salim Ali, known as the “birdman of India,” described the greater adjutant stork in The Book of Indian Birds as a large, sombre bird with black, grey, and dirty white colouring, an enormous yellow, wedge-shaped bill, and a naked head and neck.

Dr Ali had noted, “The diagnostic feature of the greater adjutant stork is the long, naked, ruddy pouch hanging from its chest. It has a close relationship with the African bird marabou. The adjutant stork is named after its military-like gait as it walks with a measured pace. It is an efficient scavenger and often feeds on carcasses and garbage in the company of kites and vultures. It also eats fish and reptiles.”

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