Updated: June 25, 2021 5:41:24 pm
At least 200 egrets, including newborn chicks, died after the urban local body of Tangla town in Assam’s Udalguri district — part of the Bodo Territorial Region —ordered that the bamboo grove they were nesting in be razed as the birds were creating an “unhygienic environment” which “may increase the risk of Covid-19 infection in the area”.
Cattle egrets are small-built herons that are protected under the Schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the incident has drawn the ire of wildlife activists in the state.
On Friday afternoon, after the incident was highlighted on social media, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma directed state Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya to look into the incident.
Earlier this month, the Executive Officer of the Municipality Board of Tangla town had sent a letter to a few residents on whose bamboo groves a colony of egrets were nesting. The letter stated that the “birds’ droppings had led to an unhygienic environment, which may increase the risk of Covid-19 infection in the area.” It reasoned that it was imperative to chop the bamboo grove, in order to restore healthy and hygienic living conditions in the area.
On Thursday morning, when the municipality workers began cutting down the grove, nearly 200 egrets, many of them newborns, died after falling from their nests.
“The chopping was scheduled for four phases and yesterday was the first. When we found out about the birds last evening, we immediately informed the Deputy Commissioner,” said Jayanta Das, an Udalguri-based wildlife activist.
On Friday morning, Udalguri Deputy Commissioner, P Uday Praveen arrived at the spot and instructed that the chopping be halted. Praveen said that while he could not say how many egrets were killed, it was a “substantial number.”
“About 60 have survived and we are now making arrangements to send them for treatment to the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Kaziranga,” he said.
Cattle Egret babies crying after the bamboo trees inhabiting their nests were destroyed by Tangla Municipal Board authorities and nearly 250 number of adult Cattle Egrets died in Tangla town of Udalguri district @CMOfficeAssam @jayantakrdas @dcudalguri pic.twitter.com/skHjQyJoQn
— Shajid Khan (@itsshajidkhan) June 24, 2021
An official from the Tangla Municipality Board said that they had been receiving complaints about the “mess” and “smell” made by the birds since 2020. “We had asked the forest department to intervene last year itself but they did not do anything,” he said, adding that it was an error on their part to have cut the trees when the birds were nesting. “We should have cut after they had flown away,” he said.
United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) leader Dilip Boro, the elected representative of Khaling Duar, under which Tangla falls, said that they had “no choice” but to cut the trees.
Boro, who is the chairman of the Tangla Municipality Board, said:
“The public was suffering and it was difficult to live in the areas because of the smell. We had informed the forest department, but since they did not take any step, we took the matter in our own hand.”
According to Samshul Ali, a veterinarian with the Wildlife Trust of India, it was the nesting season of the birds. “In two-three months, they would have flown away,” he said, adding that it may be difficult for the rescued birds to survive as they had been separated from their mothers.
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