Guwahati: For those who could not get a chance to see the state bird of Assam – White-Winged Wood Duck – in the wild, Assam State Zoo now welcomes you all.

And interestingly, Assam got its state bird from Zlin Zoo in Czech Republic. The birds arrived Sunday from Prague via a Qatar Airways flight with a stopover at Doha.  

Two captive bred pairs have arrived at the Zoo. The birds have been kept under strict quarantine for 45 days and would take some time before the public is allowed. 

The process to get the bird started in 2019 from the other side of the globe.

Ashwini Kumar, divisional forest officer of Assam State Zoo, said this is the only zoo in the country which has white-winged wood ducks. Due to its ghostly calls in the night, it is locally known as “Deo hanh” ( Divine Duck). 

The bird has a black body, a white head that is thickly spotted with black, conspicuous white patches on the wings and red or orange eyes. Its average length is about 81 cm. The sexes are more or less alike, the male having more gloss on the plumage, and being much larger and heavier.

It mostly resides in dense tropical evergreen forest and is known to prefer inaccessible swampy areas formed by numerous rivers, streams, etc. The duck is generally found in pairs or in small parties of four to six, though parties of more than 10 are also recorded. It loves shade and spends most of the day in secluded jungle pools, occasionally perching on the trees during the day.

It is a crepuscular bird as it is most active at dusk and dawn. The adults are largely omnivorous. The food consists of plant and animal material, aquatic plants, seed of wild and cultivated plants, aquatic insects, crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, snakes and fish. It breeds in the hollows of trees during summer months.

The bird was first granted protection from hunting in 1937 when the Assam Government (then under British rule) restricted hunting of the ducks during the breeding season (April to September) and outside stipulated reserve forest areas of the state  

“The Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change, Assam Forest Department and Assam State Zoo have left no stone unturned to make the dream a reality,” Kumar said.

He said this was a team effort and the move was first initiated by Tejas Mariswamy, former divisional forest officer of Assam State Zoo. A lot of clearances were needed from different authorities at the state and national level, he said.  

Marketa and Roman Horska of Zlin Zoo said they were happy that the birds are all fine and it was great working with all the officials in Assam.

The duck’s population has severely declined over the years and is now categorised as Endangered under IUCN’s Red List of Species

A report by Wildlife Trust of India which is working on white-winged wood duck says the bird was once widespread across the north eastern states of India and adjoining South Asian countries but has now declined due to habitat destruction, duckling poaching, excessive hunting, wetland draining, etc.

Parikshit Kakati from WWF-India in his Facebook post said it was a team effort right from 2019 when the move was initiated.

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