- JATINGA, India (AFP) - A
bizarre phenomenon of flocks of birds committing "suicide" in
this remote village in India's northeastern state of Assam has foxed
and the strange behavior remains a mystery.
- From August to October, when the night is moonless and
foggy, accompanied by wind and drizzle, Jatinga, a village on a ridge in
the North Cachar Hills district, 334 kilometers (207 miles) south of
capital Guwahati, turns into an island of searchlights and lanterns.
- Armed with catapults and bamboo poles, groups of
assemble outside their homes almost every night with torch flames and
hung overhead, waiting for the "dying birds."
- And in no time, the slopes and hills of Jatinga buzz
with the twitter of species of birds in agony, plummeting to the ground
like ghosts from nowhere.
- For almost three hours until midnight, the tiny hamlet
becomes a nightmare for a bevy of birds that come dashing to the light
source to be captured and killed by villagers.
- Curiously, most of the birds do not attempt to fly away
from the lights. They look dazed and disheveled, almost traumatised by
- The villagers get going in no time, bringing down birds
hovering around the light sources by a vigorous swing of the bamboo poles.
They use catapults to shoot those in flight or those perching on trees
and bushes nearby.
- "In the past, the haul of one night sometimes
500 to 600 birds with around 200 as the maximum by one person," Heren
Langthasa, a tribal villager said.
- "But now a single person in one night manage to
catch 50 to 60 birds," Langthasa told AFP.
- Legend has it that the Zemi Naga tribal villagers at
Jatinga were the first to witness the phenomenon in the late 19th century
when disoriented birds in their thousands flocked to a bonfire lit by the
locals in a paddy field to scare away wild pigs.
- The experience frightened them, as they believed the
birds were evil spirits swooping down from the sky. Eventually the Zemi
Naga tribe deserted Jatinga.
- The Jaintias, another tribe which moved to Jatinga in
1905, stumbled on the phenomenon while going into the hills at night with
flaming torches to round up cattle. The bamboo torches attracted showers
of birds, which the Jaintias regarded as a "god-sent
- Experts say that up to 50 species of birds get killed,
including the Tiger Bittern, Black Bittern, Little Egret, Pond Heron,
Pitta and Kingfishers.
- The experts however say the birds do not commit suicide
but are killed by villagers under circumstances not yet fully
- "The birds get caught in the fog, get disoriented
at their roost by the very high velocity of wind. It is highly probable
that the birds come towards the light sources set up by the villagers for
refuge and in the process get killed or captured," said Anwaruddin
Choudhury, author of "The Birds of Assam."
- "However, the entire phenomenon still continues
to be a mystery, but it is a fallacy that birds commit suicide in
he told AFP.
- Local people are beginning to become aware of the need
to conserve the bird population, experts say.
- "We must create awareness about the danger of the
entire bird species getting wiped out if the villagers continue enticing
birds with torch flames and then eating the flesh," said H.C. Khersa,
a teacher at Jatinga.
- Most of the 2,000 villagers at Jatinga are farmers
citrus fruits, mainly oranges.
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