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Septuagenarian ‘Bird Watcher of Kuthibari’ protecting parrots from poachers

2 August, 2023 10:25:12
Septuagenarian ‘Bird Watcher of Kuthibari’ protecting parrots from poachers

Salim Mian, aka Chand Mia of Kuthibari in Murshidabad, protecting parrots from poachers

We humans are destroying and consuming nature at a devastating rate and we have had a profound effect on many bird species. Bird conservation is a field in the science of conservation biology related to threatened birds. However, septuagenarian Salim Mian aka Chand Mia of Kuthibariin, Murshidabad is unaware of all this. He has committed himself to guard flocks of wild parrots that nest in tree cavities in the area. Despite his advancing age, the man with the indomitable spirit has been guarding the parrots for the past three decades and continues to do so with a zeal seldom seen in society. He has already turned into a phenomenon of sorts and people lovingly refer to him as the ‘Bird Watcher of Kuthibari’.

Chand Mian’s single-storied concrete house is close to the National Highway 12 that runs through Amtala Gopalpur Ghat under Chandpur Village Panchayat, Naoda Block. Just opposite his house, an ancient Kadai tree sprawls its sturdy branches and continues to grow. This tree has been there since the British era and has been providing safe refuge to more than three thousand magnificent red-beaked parrots for generations. Sitting on the roof of his house with a sturdy stick until late at night, Salim Mian keeps a close watch on the tree and its winged inhabitants. Poachers have tried to invade the area at all odd hours but Salim Mian’s alacrity to come to the rescue of his protégés have always compelled the criminals to take to their heels. He often raids the nearby fields to cut off the mesh traps laid down by crooks to ensnare the magnificent birds. This one-man-army continues his vigil year after year, nay, for decades without a break. 

People love parrots. They are some of the most charismatic, adaptable, and intelligent of all animals. They live in a range of environments on nearly every continent, from snow-capped peaks to humid rainforests to arid deserts. Like people, many parrots live in complex social structures, choose mates for life, and live for lifespans equal to or exceeding our own. We identify with them and admire their beauty and diversity. However, these bewitching birds have to pay a hefty price for our admiration. Thousands of parrots are trapped every year to be sold into the pet trade, with more than half dying before export from their range countries. This and habitat loss are the main reasons parrots are the most endangered group of birds on earth, with one in three species currently at risk of extinction in the wild. Because of this unsustainable trade, silent forests remain, devoid of the grandeur and spectacle of these amazing creatures.

During its heydays in Colonial times, Kuthibari thrived when the East India Company set up a sprawling indigo factory (Neelkuthi) in the vicinity. In fact, the village derived its name from the factory. Remnants of British settlements are still can be scattered in and around the village. The Kadai tree stands as the sole living testimony of a bygone era under British rule. Salim Mian was born in this village and ever since the time he remembers, he would wake up to the pandemonium of parrots. The adult birds would take off from their tree cavities early in the morning in search of food, leaving their chicks behind. Salim Mian, then a little boy, would stare transfixed at the tree and watch a riot of colours at every dawn and dusk when the parrots left their abodes and returned home after a hard day’s labour. Unknowingly, he fell in love with the abundant avifauna in his village. 

Salim Mian, a tailor by profession, worked diligently until his progenies grew up and started earning. Now, he is a superannuated man who has voluntarily transferred his family duties and financial matters to his sons. One of his sons, Saddam Mian, did not join his father’s profession and chose to become a mason. He is a migrant worker and spends a major period of the year working in other states. This offered Salim Mian the opportunity to spend more time guarding his parrot neighbours against the evil eye of the poachers. He would spend nights sitting on the terrace. Initially, his family objected to his insane enthusiasm. Many villagers too, taunted him as a madcap but nothing could deter Salim Mian to give up his chosen mission in life. Times have changed and there is a greater awareness among the masses to preserve the environment for a better future of humankind. People have gradually started realizing the importance of his mission and now they appreciate his efforts. Even nature lovers, ornithologists and environmentalists have been singing paeans about how Salim Mian has single-handedly contributed to the preservation of an endangered species from extinction. 

In a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology, scientists from the Australian National University and the National University of Córdoba in Argentina analyzed parrots’ global conservation status, examined the effectiveness of existing protected areas to safeguard parrot biodiversity, and identified parrot conservation hotspots. Nearly one-third of parrot species are threatened with extinction, and a new study concludes that current protected areas are not sufficient to protect parrot diversity, overlapping with only 10% of the geographic range of all parrot species. Agriculture is the main threat to parrots and is especially relevant in the Neo-tropics, where parrot species richness is highest. The fate of parrots is largely tied to the fate of forests, as 70% of parrots are forest-dependent. The study concludes that the future of parrots relies on policymaking in specific countries. 

These days Salim Mian is distressed when he thinks about the future. His sons have to go out to other cities and towns for their livelihood where they spend a major part of the year. He laments about the time when he is no more and all his years of labour will go in vain if proper conservation measures are not taken to save the parrots from the hands of greedy poachers. Poaching for the pet trade, habitat loss and logging are ubiquitous global threats. Salim Mian serves as a vibrant example of how the unflinching commitment of just one person to a species can make the difference between conservation and extinction, and how engaging local communities can make the difference.

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