View Full Version : Not more than five hundred

Samrat Sarkar
12-04-2020, 11:44 PM
There was a time when on the vast grassland starting from Hastinapur in the west along the left bank of the river Ganges upto the Mishmi mountain ranges in the Arunachal Pradesh in the east there lived thousands of Bengal Floricans who were endemic to that particular region. Sir Allan Hume, who played a key role in founding the Indian National Congress and was the father of the studies of ornithology in British India has given an elaborate description of this bird in his book “The game birds of India, Burma and Ceylon”- Volume I.

Samrat Sarkar
12-04-2020, 11:46 PM
In the middle of the british rule in India at the end of the eighteenth century the British officers used to move around every corners of the country and they regularly briefed Sir A. Hume at his residence at Simla about the different birds spotted and gunned down at different parts of the country. At that time as per the reports of one Colonel Graham - “ North of Mangaldai, in Darrang, about five miles from the Bhutan Hills, at a staging bungalow, well named Shikar, I shot fourteen Floricans in one day.” In the then Darrang district of Assam the Bengal Florican was a very well known bird. Mr. Graham ascertained to have spotted thirty to forty Bengal Florican in a single day in Darrang district. These birds were seen in large numbers in Kamrup and Goalpara also. Number of them were also seen in Naogaon (Nowgong), Lakhimpur and Shibsagar.

One Mr. Damant reported that Floricans were frequently spotted at the foothills of the Garo mountain ranges. He said, “where it is common, and where eight or ten may often be bagged in a morning,.” He even mentioned their presence in earstwhile Dinajpur and Malda district. The bird has got a nice name in Bengali, “Dahar”. The bengal floricans were considered a costly delicacy in the dishes of the British officers. At some time Sir Hume wrote :- “ Floricans are, I think, almost the fattest birds one for shoots, and certainly amongst the best birds for the table with which India furnishes us”

Samrat Sarkar
12-04-2020, 11:48 PM
Since then a lot of water have passed through the Ganges and the Bramhaputra. The British have left India. The human settlements have increased in an uncontrolled manner along the sides of the large rivers of the east and the North east. Grasslands have been wiped out and turned into agricultural fields many years back. The number factories have increased at the same pace. The so called grasslands of the Terai have diminished to a bare minimum amount. Along with all other birds of the Bustard the Bengal Floricans are on the verge of being extinct. There are perhaps not more than 500 of them in whole of India and Nepal. There is another sub-species (Blandini) found in Vietnam. The number of this bird in India is not more than 300 and are found in three Indian states only, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Presently the Bengal Florican is one of the rarest birds in Indian Sub-Continent. As per law these birds have to be preserved with the same importance with which the tigers are being preserved here. We are already very late in doing that.

A number of research works have been carried out in the last forty years as to why the condition of these Floricans have come to this miserable state, as to why these gorgeous birds of the grassland have almost vanished during the last one hundred and fifty years in front of our eyes. Who are to be blamed for this? The British? Wiping out of the grassland for cultivation purpose? Or, will we brush off our responsibility on the theories of evolution and survival of the fittest? Will we hide our faces behind the theories that some wild lives will obviously get extinct with the progress of the human civilisation? After all, we are supposed to be more evolved creature than any other wild animal? In fact will there be any difference if the Floricans get lost from the face of the earth? Will it affect the share market, will it have any bearing on the economy of the country or will it affect the vote bank? The answer to all these questions is a single “no”. There will not be any difference at all. Floricans don’t come for any use for the development of the modern India. So many wild animals have ceased to exist from the face of our country. Did that make any difference? The Cheetahs have gone away. The people of Rajasthan or of Gujarat have not faced any problem for that. We have rather more burning problems to solve in Assam; citizenship amendment Bill, terrorism and so on. These problems have to be sorted out first. We do not have space for any other issues and during that time if some species of animals have to leave from us we don’t bother. The ornithologists never took pains to establish the far reaching beneficial effects of the presence of birds on the socio-economic fields. I do not either think that this responsibility rests on them only.

It is not possible invest ones time for the benefit of the birds for one’s whole life. In our present urban life we can easily deny the benefits of the presence of birds in our environment. In these circumstances we may wonder if there is any point in conserving the endangered species of birds in our surroundings. But we must not forget that our mother earth is not for the human race only but also for the rivers, forests and for the other wild animals. If a student studies about the modern history of British India, about the Indian National Congress and about A. Hume he won’t be able to evade his eyes from the research work that Sir Hume and his group of men carried out during that time on different birds, and of the diversity of all the birds of the erstwhile India.

In the wide vistas of the knowledge the humankind, the environment and their imminent crisis will certainly make their way through the minds of these students. That has always happened in the past albeit in a mild manner. The humankind has come here to stay and in the same way every other plants and animals have the same right to stay and live here with the same authority. India belongs to all. The Hindus, the Muslims, the Christians all people of all creeds and faiths, all animals, all plants all rivers and forests, all are inseperable part of our mother India. We cannot think in any different way. If we go a little deeper into it we will have to face some disturbing questions cropping up in our minds regarding the policies of the government of the independent India for its economy, social welfare and protection of its nature and the wild life etc. But let us become more specific and let us see why the Bengal florican, in particular, is so important and try to throw some light as to why this bird has been an important point of discussion since the long past. The knowledge of the species will help us to understand this species in a better way and it will educates us to become more aware of its importance and help us to remember them. When we do that there comes an awareness among the common people and some public opinion develops in favour of the bird. This benefits the species.

Samrat Sarkar
12-04-2020, 11:49 PM
At present the Manas National Park is an important habitat of the Bengal Floricans. To the Assamese people, they are better known as the “Ulu Moura”. “Ulu” is the name of a particular type of grass of the Terrai region. The vast stretch of the grassland along the foot of the Bhutan Hills consists of this type of grasses. And, the word “Moura” means peacock, the peacock of the grassland.

Samrat Sarkar
12-04-2020, 11:51 PM
Nobody knows when and from which place of this grassland it will fly off like a rocket. From March to June is their mating season. The males are polygamous while the females are generally monogamous. They prefer staying away hiding behind the grasses. The males compete with each other to mate with a prospective female. The males inflate the feathers of their shoulder, the neck and of the chest to lure the females and stride with confident steps for sometime.

Samrat Sarkar
13-04-2020, 07:02 AM
Then they fold their knees and fly off in the sky screaming and fluttering their wings. A male jumps upto about thirty feet above the ground in a single flight . It keeps its feathers around its neck, shoulder and its chest inflated.

Samrat Sarkar
13-04-2020, 07:03 AM
Its ascending flight looks like an ascending parachute. It stretches its two white wings and directly comes down to its own place in the ground.

Samrat Sarkar
13-04-2020, 07:05 AM
But even after this much of manoeuvre if the nearby female does not respond then it will again fly off in the sky and will try to impress the females with more enthusiasm. These flights of flying into the sky, how beautifully a male can do this, will melt the heart of a female bird and if the female bird approves the stunt that the male shows during its flight only then it will give its consent to mate with her. During this time the male bird will chase its competitors from the area and that is when the males fight each other so as to become the favoured partner of its female counterpart. They say that if a male bird, during the time it chases some other male bird, manages to pluck off one or two feathers from its competitor, it wins the game. The one which loses its feathers is considered defeated and has to leave the area immediately. Sometimes the two males are seen to fight on the ground as well. On one occasion Sir Hume quoted one Mr. Blyth (another famous ornithologist and an officer of the Government of the British India) and said that he witnessed two males fighting each other on the ground. But the moment they realised his presence both of them fled away. After that Sir Hume Quoted “They renewed their conflict at a short distance, and thus allowed him to bag both” Mr. Blith made a very good use of this situation; he gunned down both of these birds. Sir Hume has given a description of the famous flight in his book and has written in detail about its food habits and lifestyles etc. Researchers had of course carried out many more research works afterwards. The scientists of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) have done many more important research works on this particular bird. But, it is that first upward flight of the bird from the ground that has made the bird unique. To see the beauty and the uniqueness of that flight many birdwatchers and photographers visit the Manas National Park every year between March and June. I also visit that place during that period of the year to experience that spectacular event and watch them until the sun sets beyond the horizon in the evening.

In one April noon after a short spell of drizzle as I was sitting at Rupohi Camp in Manas. The vast expanse of grass in front of me was looking just like a green bed set with springs. All of a sudden a Florican appeared from nowhere and in a fraction of a second jumped
upward and flew in the sky above. It was like a spot jump by its legs and the height of the jump was not less than three metres. At that moment my vision was fixed at some distance place through the lens of my binocular and the bird seemed to jump from my backside but flew away in front of me. It was quite an amusing experience to me. In between, I click my shutter and sometimes, draw some pencil sketches.

Samrat Sarkar
13-04-2020, 07:06 AM
There is a sketch of a couple of this bird in the book of Sir Hume as well. A male bird is sitting somewhere and a female bird with its shoulder stooped downwards closing in towards the male bird. It looks quiet an intimate moment for the couple. At present the number of this bird survivings merely 300. All of them may vanish at any time. A large scale flood or a serious pandemic is sufficient to obliterate this species from the face of earth. There may come some morning when a florican will perform its last flight to the sky and will then fall asleep in the grassland of the Terrai forever the same way as the Pink Headed Ducks got lost. We all are now enjoying their sudden flights from the ground not knowing whether this flight will be its last one or not. And if one day one such flight becomes that last flight we will forget everything and will engage ourselves in various social controversies in front of the television sets, will again stand in queues to cast our votes to make a new and prosperous India.

Originally written in Bengali – Samrat Sarkar
Translation into English – Bishwajit Debnath
Photographs and sketches with wood pencil – Samrat Sarkar

Mrudul Godbole
14-04-2020, 08:54 PM
A very beautiful bird showcased through lovely sketches and photographs.

I totally agree, that we are losing lot of our amazing wildlife and hardly a few people seem to care about it. It is sad that these days people have lost touch with nature and have no time to think of what will happen if the nature surrounding us is replaced with buildings and roads and highways. All the government seem to care about is development (in any way possible) without thinking the repercussions on nature and to top that people also support that.

I can understand the pain of knowing that this amazing bird might be lost forever. You are lucky you were able to witness its charismatic flight. I hope I am able to travel to Manas soon to see it with my own eyes before its too late. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article. Look forward to more.

Sabyasachi Patra
24-04-2020, 09:05 PM
Grasslands are one of the most misunderstood ecosystems. People take it as wastelands and takeover for concretisation or divert for some projects. Some others mistakenly feel that grasslands are ideal empty space for tree planting. So lot of harm is caused to the grasslands and the birds and other species living in grasslands. So the Great Indian Bustard and the Bengal florican have suffered enormously due to our apathy shown to grasslands. Blackbucks have also vanished from much of their former range due to depleting grasslands. And Asiatic cheetah is extinct in India. It is time we understand the importance of grasslands and start conserving those.

Nice to see that you could also get shots of the bird performing its mating ritual.