Swamp Prinia — A Disappearing Grassland Rarity

Dr. Ranjan Kumar Das

Dr. Ranjan Kumar Das

Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'

The rapid and extensive loss and modification of grasslands and reedswamp with specialized grass species throughout its limited range is the main threat to the Swamp Prinia.

The Swamp Prinia (Prinia cinerascens) is an extremely rare bird to see and photograph in the wild. This Near Threatened bird was frequently seen in undisturbed grassland habitat with Saccharum spontaneum grasses (Kohua in Assamese) near the Maguri-Motapung wetland. The location was the south bank of Dibru river just outside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Tiger Reserve. Tragically, the entire grassland patch was cleared by villagers for agriculture by burning it in 2010. Later, due to awareness created amongst villagers by some local youth engaged in bird tourism, the grassland patch has been completely restored to its original state.

Hearteningly, another threatened grassland bird, the Black-breasted Parrotbill (Paradoxornis flavirostris) has occupied the restored patch. This is one classic example of the positive side of ‘Bird tourism’. Now, Maguri-Motapung wetland is famous among birders worldwide not only for grassland birds but also for wetland specialties like the Critically Endangered Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri), and other Vulnerable species like Falcated Duck (Anas falcate) and Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus).

However, bird tourism should be done in a responsible and sustainable manner as it has serious downsides in the way it is typically practiced in Northeast India. Tour operators should strictly refrain from trampling grassland habitat, or errantly using bird calls in the field. Sadly, after the burning of the grassland by local villagers, the Swamp Prinia has never returned to its original location.

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About the author

Dr. Ranjan Kumar Das

The author is Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Tinsukia College, Tinsukia, Assam.


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