Assam: Wildlife Trust, forest dept to address conservation of White-Winged Duck

Guwahati: The Wildlife Trust of India and the Assam Forest Department will develop a conservation strategy and action plan to address the urgent need for the conservation of the White-winged Duck( WWD) in Assam.

White-winged Duck (Deohanh), the “State Bird” of Assam is a forest-dwelling duck. The unique and rare avian species used to inhabit the lowland evergreen forests of Brahmaputra valley, but its population declined drastically over the years and is now on the verge of local extinction in many of its ranging areas in Assam.

 “Most of the White-winged duck’s habitat is currently under severe threat from various anthropogenic activities such as encroachment for settlements and agriculture, deforestation, hunting, chemical pollution and large infrastructure developments,” the report by Wildlife Trust of India says.

Assam forest minister Chandra Mohan Patowary formally released the conservation strategy for White-winged Duck. 

At least three protected areas (Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, Nameri National Park & Dihing-Patkai National Park) were established for preserving the duck and its habitat. Many short-term studies and awareness programmes were conducted regularly in the state promoting species conservation. “However, in absence of a formal

conservation strategy and action plan till date, the conservation initiatives for the duck have been ‘scattered’ and ‘isolated’ without much impactful outcome,” the report says.

It further says owing to such severe threats, and lack of any coordinated conservation action, a conservation strategy was urgently required for planning its recovery and securing its long-term conservation in Assam.

“While attempts to conserve the duck have been made in the past, there has not been a comprehensive survey of both the states that make up the habitat for the species nor has there been an approved conservation action plan for the bird. At WTI, our Species Recovery team took on this task a few years ago and has finished the survey and the plan for the state of Assam. It is a sad story that the team could only find the duck in a few spots that were already known and that it was not seen in any new place within Assam. The survey in Arunachal continues and may yield a few more sites for conservation. But the story is more or less the same. The species has very small populations within India in very selected forest patches. If we do not intervene at this stage, the final bells may toll for the state bird of Assam,” said Vivek Menon, Founder & Executive Director, Wildlife Trust of India. 

The strategy document is designed to serve as a guide to the decision-making authorities (principally governments and their agencies), conservationists, researchers, academics and regional stakeholders for formulating and implementing effective action and measures for conservation of the species and its habitat in the north eastern region of India.

The 2019-20 survey recorded 24 individual white-winged ducks (in 39 sightings) from three forest areas of Assam; Nameri National Park, Upper Dihing (West Block) Reserve Forest and Doomdooma-Dangori Forest Complex. Breeding sites were confirmed in Nameri National Park.

The strategy talks of habitat protection, population strengthening, creating awareness and carrying out research. In habitat protection, strengthening of 

forest staff in key WWD habitats to ensure better protection of the area whike there is a need to enhance and develop infrastructure such as patrolling roads, guard towers, camps etc to secure WWD habitats.

Law enforcement will be strengthened and build an intelligence network to prevent hunting of ducks and poaching of eggs and ducklings. Efforts wil be made to ensure adequate communication with local communities to discourage accidental egg and duckling pick-ups and netting of adult ducks.

The strategy talks of ensuring regulated tourism and ensuring minimum disturbances in WWD breeding areas and during critical periods. Concealed designated

viewing areas for tourists will be made in WWD’s habitat for assuring tourist visits without disturbing the birds.

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A conservation breeding programme in Assam will be set up to augment the wild population and efforts will be made to ensure WWD conservation is mainstreamed in management policies of various Government agencies.

A “WWD Conservation Fund” will be established to create a permanent resource pool for initiating and continuing WWD conservation activities in Assam.

Also Read | How the Cachar Paper Mill turned into a ‘wildlife sanctuary’

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