The endangered black-necked stork eluding rescuers from the wildlife department and birders for over a week was finally rescued from Kherli Majra village near Najafgarh Jheel at 9.10am on Wednesday. A team of eight, including members of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the state wildlife department, managed to catch the bird on Wednesday morning after it lost its strength to fly. The team surrounded the bird, and, after struggling for an hour, captured it.
Having spent at least six days, since it was spotted on June 7 at Gurgaon’s Basai wetland, without food after its beak had got stuck in what looked like a plastic bottle ring, its energy level had started to sag, and it was only managing to fly 50-100m. The rescuers found the ring was made of rubber, not plastic. It was removed immediately, after which, a veterinarian examined the bird. The stork was then hand-fed a fish and given water to drink from the wetland. Early morning on Wednesday, the rescue team — armed with drones, traps, hides, DSLR cameras, plenty of water bottles and a first-aid kit — walked over a kilometre into the dry Najafgarh Jheel bed to reach the water’s edge. Rakesh Ahlawat and Sonu Dalal of the Mysore-based NCF had joined the team just that day. To locate the bird in trouble — three black-necked storks were spotted in the area using binoculars and field scopes — wildlife inspector Sunil Kumar and wildlife guard Krishan Kumar instructed drone pilot Ajay Singh to operate the drone at a height of over 100m and try to capture visuals of all three from close. But poor internet connection meant the team couldn’t view the video live.
So they turned to wildlife enthusiast and photographer Anil Gandas, who has been involved in rescuing wildlife for the last 12 years. Using ultra-zoom lenses, Gandas clicked photos of the birds, which helped the team identify their target from the ring around its beak. “While it is difficult for the human eye to spot a bird’s beak, even with field scopes, photos sometimes help. Luckily, a photograph helped identify the stork with the blocked beak,” said Gandas.
Equipped with a glue trap, Qasim and Mohammed Mansoor of BNHS then took over. They waded into the marshy wetland to approach the bird. But first, they made a hide using leaves, so that the bird wouldn’t see them. Throwing caution to the wind, Qasim trudged more than 500 m in the deep swamp carrying the bamboo trap, while concealed inside the hide. It took Qasim two hours to reach within 50m of the stork. Luckily, the other two birds were a safe distance away, and Qasim had his chance to use the trap. Still, he proceeded cautiously, displaying tremendous patience and stamina. Unfortunately, the glue trap got stuck in the marsh and disappointingly for everyone, Qasim had to return. “We can’t take a trap close to a bird quickly. It takes hours to do so. Birds are very good at sensing a foreign object. While the bird was unaware that a human was as close as 50m, the trap didn’t work,” Qasim explained.
In the end, they decided to tire the bird out so that it couldn’t fly. They surrounded the stork from all directions. Finally, Dalal reached touching distance, and the six-day rescue came to an end. “We were trying to capture the stork since Sunday, but it had enough energy left and was flying up to a height of 100m. However, by Wednesday morning, it was so weak that it could only fly up to 50m. Seeing this, we divided the team into different groups and surrounded the bird. After struggling for an hour, Dalal was able to catch it,” explained Ahlawat, field coordinator for cranes and wetlands at NCF.
When the TOI team visited Najafgarh Jheel on Wednesday, it found the bird had already gained some energy to stand. The lower part of the stork’s beak was found to be so full of mud and garbage, it was unable to open its beak. Veterinarian Dr Debashish from BNHS had to work on it to clean up its beak. The bird has been kept under observation.