Assam’s state bird, the white-winged wood duck (Asarcornis scutulata), could become extinct in a few decades after losing its habitat due to the effects of climate change and anthropogenic factors, warns a study by a team. researchers.
The white-winged wood duck, known as Deo Hanh or divine duck of Assam, is an endangered species listed in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Act, 1972. The species is found in northeastern India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh , Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.
The study was conducted by Jyotish Ranjan Deka and Syed Ainul Hussain of the Wildlife Institute of India-Dehradun, Animekh Deka of Assam University-Silchar and Abhijit Boruah, Jyoti Prasad Das and Rubul Tanti of Aaranyak, a wildlife-based NGO. Guwahati, was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Nature Conservation.
It is estimated that there are 800 white-winged wood ducks (WWWD) in the world of which 450 are known to be present in the Indian East Himalayan (IEH) region especially in certain places in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
WWWD inhabits swampy areas of narrow tropical evergreen forests at altitudes ranging from 200 m to 1,500 m above sea level. Areas with annual temperatures between 22 and 30 degrees Celsius and receiving 1,000-1,200 mm of rain between the 6th and 10th months are most suitable for the species.
The study said that of the total 273,490 sq km of IEH, 5,123 km² is ‘highly suitable’ for WWWD. It said that the total potential habitat of the IEH, which covers all the eight states of the north-east and the hilly areas of West Bengal, will decrease due to climate change.
“Only 142.20 sq km of high potential area (habitat) will exist in 2050. Between 2050 and 2070, there will be a loss of 465 km² of high potential area due to the effects of climate change,” said the study.
“Climate change will affect most of the potential habitats in eastern Assam, including the Dehing Patkai National Park and the Doomdooma forest sector, which are key habitats for the WWWD,” she added.
The study noted that in recent decades there has been a rapid decline in the world’s population of WWWD, primarily due to the anthropogenic destruction of their natural habitats.
It noted that threats such as habitat loss, deforestation, environmental degradation, water pollution and drying up of water bodies due to climate change have reduced the number of species in their natural habitats.
“Hunting and gathering eggs for food have further threatened their existence. In the tropical forests of Assam, the decline in the population of WWWD has been observed mainly due to the destruction of forest habitat and clearing of forests near water bodies,” said the study.