Patna, March 6: A rescue and rehabilitation centre has opened in Bihar to protect and conserve the Garuda, an endangered species of the stork family.
The first-of-its-kind centre opened this week in Bhagalpur district, said Sanjay Sinha, a divisional forest officer.
Nearly eight years after these endangered birds started nesting and breeding in Bhagalpur, their number has increased several fold -- from 78 to 400.
"It is a positive development for the conservation of Garuda that a much needed hospital-cum-rescue and rehabilitation centre has started in a small way," Sinha told.
At present, three birds are housed for treatment at the centre.
Arvind Mishra, coordinator in Bihar and Jharkhand for the Indian Birds Conservation Network, said the centre would become a role model for other states if it proves successful.
Mishra said the centre was opened to provide proper care to chicks that may fall from their nests and also for the care of adult birds that fall ill or sustain injuries.
He said three veterinarians and a paramedic were trained for the treatment of Garuda at the West Bengal-based Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre.
"We have created awareness among local people about the bird's conservation and protection," he said.
In Hindu mythology, Garuda is considered the 'vahan' or carrier of Lord Vishnu.
Loss of nesting habitat and feeding sites through drainage, pollution and disturbance, together with hunting and egg collection, caused a massive dip in the population of the species.
Mishra first spotted the Garuda birds nesting and breeding in 2007 on a silk cotton tree near a village in the Ganga-Diara area in Bhagalpur.
Prior to that, the bird was never seen in Bihar during the breeding season.
Mishra said: "The birds are on the verge of extinction. Attempts are being made all over the world to conserve and save them."
According to him, there were only 1,100 Garuda birds, which are migratory in nature, around the world.
The Garuda, biologically known as Greater Adjutant, is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List 2004 of threatened species and listed under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
This huge stork has a naked pink head, a very thick yellow bill and a low hanging neck pouch. The neck ruff is white. The bird looks like a vulture.
Other than the pale grey edge on each wing, the rest of its body is dark grey.
Juveniles have a narrower bill, thicker down on the head and neck, and entirely dark wings, Mishra said.
A Garuda bird measures 145-150 cm (about three feet) in length and four to five feet in height.
Mishra said several villagers have been worshipping the birds and the tree on which they have made their nests.
The nesting season is between September and January. The nests, usually built right on the top of the tree canopy, measure 90-110 cm in diameter.
"Bhagalpur is the third nesting region of this species in the world," said Mishra, who has been working on a project supported by the Wildlife Trust of India for the protection of the species.
The main threat the birds now face in Bihar is from the nomadic Banpar tribe which collects the eggs and chicks. They also hunt the bird for food.
Another threat, according to Mishra, is the anti-inflammatory medicine Diclofenac that is used for cattle by veterinarians.