A team of Indo-US bird researchers have identified the tawny-breasted wren-babbler as East Khasi Hills’ first endemic species of bird.
The preliminary findings could prove groundbreaking with significant implications for the biodiversity of the area and underscores the importance of ongoing conservation efforts.
Endemic means that this bird species, whose scientific name is Spelaeornis longicaudatus, is unique to a defined geographical location. Although this makes it special, it also puts the species at risk of extinction if that location is a small one.
The tawny-breasted wren-babbler is the size of a ping pong ball, brown in colour and intricately patterned and usually hides among the ferns and pops out and hides back again.
The team of experts addressed a press conference here today where they also elaborated on the potential that bird watching has as a tourism avenue.
Gaurav Kataria, the founder of India Birding Tour, said that, for avian enthusiasts, Meghalaya is a complete unknown.
“For a bird watcher to come here there is no infrastructure, no information and there are no guides to take people. Whereas if you see Arunachal Pradesh, bird tourism is totally developed and the state is earning millions of dollars every year,” Kataria said.
He said that this was his seventh trip to Meghalaya and on New Year’s Day, at Lyngksiar falls in Sohra, he and his team were able to spot the tawny-breasted wren-babbler.
According to him, during their three-day stay in the state they were able to map around 120 bird species in Meghalaya.
Steve, a distinguished wildlife biologist based in the United States, said that bird watching is exponentially growing around the world.
According to the wildlife biologist, catching a glimpse of such a species will draw avian enthusiasts. “From my perspective just seeing how all the vegetation and birds change very quickly was really exciting,” Steve said.
Arpit Deomurari, a seasoned professional, said that there are only 600 people who have reported sightings of birds in Meghalaya.
“Of the 425 bird species found in Meghalaya only 600 people have seen them in only a couple of hotpots. It could be from Sohra or from Balpakram or Nokrek,” Deomurari said.
He also said that according to his studies, due to climate change birds many species living on a country’s border are moving northwards as per global phenomena.
“This way we may see new species which may never occur in India,” Deomurari said.
He said that from the tourism point of view, one will have to look at how those places are surveyed and conserved with the help of local communities.
“We have developed a technology which is a small device which is placed in the forest and automatically records the bird call and once the data is recorded I can identify through artificial intelligence which bird is calling and from where it is calling and how active they are,” Deomurari said.
According to him, the estimated population of the tawny-breasted wren-babbler is around 500 but no survey has been done.
“These are very less known species and in our three days of visits we found them in around five to six places. But what is its actual range or the preferred habitat we need to study this species to understand their biology and what is the population,” he added.
According to the chairman of the Meghalaya Rural Tourist Forum, Alan West Kharkongor, the bird was found at Lyngksiar falls, which is a popular tourist destination. Kharkongor said that locals kill this bird for consumption and appealed to the community to conserve and protect it since it is unique to the state.