When Tiken Ray first saw the couple, they were walking in the company of a lone cow across a rice field on the edge of Assam’s Manas National Park. “They looked big even from a distance, but when I got closer one of them craned out and that made him look even bigger,” said the 34-year-old villager from the Wildlife Trust of India. My first instinct was to do it protect. “

On Wednesday, Ray alerted well-known ornithologists, and on February 18, a team consisting of Nilutpal Mahanta from Gauhati University, naturalist Pranjal Sarma, and bird watcher Indrani Adhyapak confirmed that it was a pair of black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis). native to the Tibetan plateau and first sighted in Assam. “That doesn’t mean the bird has never come here,” said ornithologist Dr. Anwaruddin Choudhury. “But even if they did, nobody saw him.”

The ornithologists believe the couple – possibly a man and a woman, approximately 130 cm tall – lost their way to the village of Chaurang under the Panbari chain of the national park.

“These are endangered birds at high altitude that are normally not seen in locations this low,” Mahanta said. “Of course we were amazed and wondered what brought her here.”

A divine bird

The black-necked crane, often associated with peace, plays a central role in Buddhist mythology and culture. According to a blog post by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the legend says: “Earlier incarnations of the Dalai Lama were carried from monastery to monastery on the back of these sacred birds.” More recently, however, the bird has been the victim of development pressures (deterioration wetlands, habitat loss, overgrazing) and is now listed in Appendix I of the Wildlife Protection Act (Protection Act) 1972. In 2020 a re-evaluation of the crane’s population resulted in its status on the IUCN Red List being changed from Endangered to Near-Endangered.

While the first sighting in Assam caused a stir with bird watchers, Ray initially had some concerns about his safety. “The first reaction from some villagers was to catch the bird,” he said. “These are really big and look different – of course you would be fascinated by them.”

However, over the past week Ray has started raising awareness about the bird. One way to do this was to give the bird an Assamese name – “Deu Korchon” (Deu means god and Korchon means crane). “We told them how the bird is considered auspicious in Arunachal Pradesh, that this is a Devta Sorai (Divine Bird). Now many would think again before they hurt it, ”he said.

Mahanta said it was named that way in consultation with the villagers and the school principal. “It didn’t have an Assamese name and now that it’s in Assam we thought of one,” he said.

The Trung-Trung-Karmo

While Ray saw it in February, a bird photographer in Barpeta, Imran Ahmed, saw it in January. While the high-altitude wetlands of the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Gansu), Sichuan (China) and East Ladakh (India) are the main breeding ground for the species, the birds spend the winter at lower altitudes. “But never that low,” says Dr. Choudhury, adding that it was recorded a long time ago in the plains of North Bengal. “Some of them visit the Sangti and Zimithang valleys in Arunachal Pradesh,” he said. The Buddhist monpas there and in Bhutan refer to them as Trung-Trung Karmo.

Environmentalists remember, among other things, the bird that helped stop a dam project a few years ago. In 2016, the National Green Tribunal suspended environmental permits for a proposed hydropower project in Tawang District after nature conservation organizations reached out to them to highlight how the dam would endanger the crane’s habitat if it were built.

“There is something special to see it in Assam because it is a rare bird – it is not very common,” said Dr. Choudhry. With what we can hope (or maybe already), Assam is now adding another unusual species of bird to his list.