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The endangered State Bird

By Bhushan Parimoo

A unique Gift on the Losar Celebrations was presented to this writer at Jammu the other day. It was a get together organised by the Ladhikis to celebrate the Losar Festival away from home. Gift was in shape of a request to have Cha (Bird) Tungh Tungh Karmo preserve and protected. It is a local name in Ladhakhi Cha means Bird, Tungh Tungh, the big and Charmo, whitish for the Black Necked Crane. The gift presented was no doubt a unique one at the same time felt proud to receive it. Presented by a aged weather beaten Grandma from Chanthang in the function. With love, affection above all pinning hope of trust in the recipient. She must have heard of me being an environmentalist in the function itself .That would have been reason enough to approach an unknown non Ladhaki for help to save this scared bird from extinction. A proud possession of the State the Black-necked crane is found here only in the Subcontinent. And rightly so has been declared the State Bird. Ladakhis feel proud and boast that nature has bestowed upon no one other a place for Black Necked Cranes to breed and thrive except Ladakh. Ladakhis consider sighting of the Cha Tungh Tungh Karmo portend of good luck. Heard it had been practice with the locals to spread a big white sheet and expect it to land on summer arrival, and its foot mark on it used to be considered auspicious omen. Drawings of these are also found in the monasteries as the bird. Considered auspicious and the symbol of Ladakh’s unique ecology. As such has niche a place in their culture, and its dance called the Chartses is performed by Ladakhis in every cultural event and festival. This must have been the reason she came on her weak legs at a great efforts to me. After customary Jule with feeble voice but clear audible had a tinge of concern in it. Desired that the Environment Awareness Forum, about which she must have been made aware from the associates participating in the function, should approach on their behalf the concerned quarters for immediate necessary measure. Grandma seemed to be purely illiterate but has been well informed and kept herself abreast with the status of this Scared bird elsewhere across the hill in the Tibet Plateau and beyond perhaps due to intense concern to save it in her vicinity. Shared that status of the Black Necked Crane in those areas are increasing at a faster speed because of rigorous measures taken by that Government to protect their nesting areas maintain its natural habit reserves. Lamented that neglect on this side writs large and bold of the face of the Jammu and Kashmir Department of Wildlife and Protection, whose lackadaisical approach has left everything at God’s mercy. Very aptly emphasised that in case one has to depend on God, which we do than why to have this Department of false hope in the area with false assurances. Under this circumstance this New Year Gift though contains a daunting task yet has been a cherishing one. Provided a reason to long a few more years to accomplish the task. Environment Awareness Forum has a history to take challenges, swim against the tide and shore at the logic end. With it a single resolve inquest started in right earnest to find the facts and verify them of the ground realities without any malice whatsoever. It was observed traditions and culturally makes them get Socio-religious protection. Quite but natural it has become a customary affair with elders of Ladhak region to plead before any Tom Deck and Harry whom they presume shall carry their message to the concerned authorities for its preservation and protection. Locals do their constitutional duty to keep on reminding all stake holders including the society to have this Bird contained from being wiped out from the area. If present are any indication and the approach of the authorities taken into the account be sure slender is the margin before it became a tale of once upon a time with this Bird in the area. Efforts to retrieve it from vanishing the Department has left the intent far behind cover themselves under the doctrine of Pretend to be busy do nothing. Black Necked Crane remain confined exclusively on this side to eastern Ladhak during breeding season around Tsokar,Puja, Staklung, Hanle, Chasul and other wetlands around. She added that considerable loss of habitat with ever increasing unchecked indulgence to convert marshes, Wetlands by draining out the water to carve out Agriculture lands had made their habitat to shrink, and some are gone forever. Thereby deprived considerably their nesting places besides wiping out considerably the source of sustenance. They need a vast area for foraging cover several kilometres in search of it a day. Spend nearly 75% of the day with peak feeding in the early morning and late afternoon. .Earlier these used to live in conformity with the local nomads, see giving indication they were made for each other. Pronounced increase in irresponsible tourists, security activities though after 2007 every precaution is enforced to cause bare minimum distraction to them. One of the excuses by the concerned is passed entirely on the increased number on feral dogs to whom is attributed cause damage to eggs and chicks. Black Necked Crane inhabit meadows, wetlands, and lakes at an altitude from 2,500 to 5,000 meters .one of the 15 species in the world of cranes migratory in nature a High Flier even Everest did not pose them any hindrance in his movement whatsoever. Cranes are very large birds often considered the world’s tallest flying birds. It is believed these appeared on this planet some 60 million of years before Homosapien. Black Necked Crane belongs to Genus Grus there are other nine species such as Wattled Crane, Blue Crane, Demoiselle Crane, Red -Crowned Crane, Whooping Crane, Common Crane also known as the Eurasian crane, and Hooded Crane. But no one of these is found along with the Black Necked Crane anywhere. Scientifics named it (Grus nigricollis) possess a very well developed body has a whitish-gray colour because of it is called Karmo means white in Ladhakhi, with a black head, red crown patch, black upper neck and legs, and white patch to the rear of the eye but bill is greenish. The males and females do not vary in external appearance, but males tend to be slightly larger than females. Adult stands 4 feet in height Stands, 4.7 feet In length with a 7.8 ft wingspan and it weighs 5.5 kg or more. With its long legs, long straight bills and neck and an elevated hind toe which normally bears none of the bird’s weight when it walks. While flying it keeps head and neck straight out, legs and feet stretched out behind with a regular steady and slow downward wing beat matched by a rapid upstroke. Has been observed circle at a tremendous height sometimes 5 kms. Seldom glide except when preparing to land. Possess elaborated coiled windpipe like a trumpet facilitating in making a sound very much like that of a trumpet, loud resonant, far reaching cry said to be heard miles away. On the ground a series of softer notes are produced presenting a pleasant musical sounds. Observed to possess a very typical way of drinking water to quench the thirst very impressive to watch dip its bill into the water up to the nostrils, then raising head and swallow it quickly. Like many other crane species, they are believed to form long-lasting pair bonds and dancing displays are made during the breeding season. The nest site is usually a pre-existing mud island inside a large shallow wetland, sometimes shared along with bar headed Goose. Generally two dull white or brown eggs are laid each season mainly in May and June. Both male and female cranes share the incubation of their eggs, changing duty between two to ten times each day. The young ones are able to forage independently usually they accompany the parents during foraging. Short, subdued nasal “kurrr” calls are used by the Cranes. Black Necked Crane has been last to discover among the crane species. First sighted by a Russian naturalist; Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky in1876 near Lake Koko Nor, in north eastern Tibet and gave its perfect description with a drawing. First to be spot it in Eastern Ladhah was F. Ludlow a naturalist on June Second 1919 at Tsokar during his tour of the Changthan. Thereafter Arthur Edward Osmaston another Naturalist was to locate it during June 1924. Meinertzahagen followed them and found during May –June of 1929. After fifty years of the gap, Subject to correction, Dr S.A.Hussain visited the area during June 1876. Refernce can also be found about survey conducted by Parkesh Gole.Narayan, Mr Akhtar, Chacko.Pfister and others. It has been knowledge out of knowledge exercises of a scientific nature .But apart from academic indulgence nothing to retrieve restore and develop the breeding sites with a congenial atmosphere which has become a dire necessity has been ever initiated . What a tragedy Department of Wildlife Protection Department has kept it as a classified secret of its sorry state of affairs watching and waiting the last Bird to go. IUCN classification has been classified as ‘threatened’ and ‘declining’ Listed in The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978, amended up to 2002. A solitary attempt by Mr Tahir Shawl during his assignment as Wildlife Warden Ladhak, succeeded to fit the satellite transmitters on two Black-necked Cranes in collaboration with the WWF and BNHS, 2013. A poster released by then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah jointly prepared by WWF-India and the Department of Wildlife Protection, at the third meeting of the J&K State Board for Wildlife in September 2013 . Apart from it there is nothing to write home about. Stake holders are told not to cry wolf at the same time they admit these are few in number but existence is not threatened with extinction. Under the circumstances one is bound to ask why then locals cry for help to preserve them. Hope new dispensation, at the helm of affairs at the moment, shall take cognisance of the problem and have measures initiated to bring out it from the morasses of inefficiency to realise cherished desire of our Grandma.
(The writer is a Jammu based Environmentalist)