The greater adjutant stork: Scavenger in chief
This huge bird, standing over five feet tall, is not considered pretty and was often an object of revulsion. One ornithologist went as far as to call it “a prodigy of ugliness”. This is the greater adjutant stork. Its name is derived from their stiff awkward “military” gait when walking on the ground.
It is a scavenger known as Hargila (or bone swallower) in Hindi, Assamese and Bengali. This bird was once the logo of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Young British soldiers were known to harass these birds for fun, even blowing up birds by feeding them meat containing bones packed with a cartridge and fuse. The birds would remain calm when natives passed but would bark in anger when those in European clothes passed by. These big birds produce prodigious amounts of poop and people began killing them. It is now an endangered species.
Conservation efforts are on in Assam and Bihar where they are found. The Assamese women weave Hargila motifs into their gamosas. While women in Bihar now include this bird’s name in their prayers. These ‘hargila armies’ have made a huge difference to their dwindling numbers.
Kaziranga, 5 Nov 2017
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