A new dimension to Jatinga mystery

SILCHAR, Oct 29: Governor of Assam JB Patnaik has added a new dimension to the avian harakari mystery by his observation at the inaugural function of the three-day ‘Jatinga Valley Festival’ that the birds “do not commit suicide but are killed by villagers”. World renowned ornithologists and naturalists- Salim Ali, S Sengupta, Robin Banerjee among others who studied the phenomenon and critically examined it- went on record to say that the ‘bird suicide’ theory called for in-depth exploration before arriving at any definite conclusion. They have described it quite ‘an enigmatic occurrence’. And there are several related questions being raised on it.
Why should birds commit suicide or be killed during the period beginning from mid August to early November when, according to bird watchers, on dark nights, the mists and fog borne by a South Westerly wind passes over Jatinga Valley towards Northeast? It is during this season only that the birds of various species flock to the region. Besides avian creatures from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Siberia and India Oceanic zone, birds from other parts of Northeast fly across the Valley. Again the phenomenon is confined within certain specific geographical area of Jatinga. More puzzling, why should birds in this specified zone be attracted by lights or flaming objects and plunge down towards them and commit suicide? These birds then become prey to the delicacies of villagers.
Dr Robin Banerjee did make the observation usually birds which fly during day time do not fly at night. But in Jatinga, it is just the reverse. Birds of day fly at night also. The mysterious killing of birds is due to ‘certain magnetic force active in the valley caused by specific weather conditions’. The birds develop hazy look and are easily, as he said, attracted by a flaming torch or burning object. The phenomenon can be equated with that of Bermuda triangle where the captain of a vessel often feels a jerk in his steering wheel and loses the track.
When and how did the ‘enigmatic phenomenon’ come to light? There is no definite information or record. Elderly villagers of the Valley speak of an incident on the basis of oral tradition. In the pristine age when the hills of North Cachar were sparsely populated with a few hamlets, a buffalo in the herd strayed into dense forest. Some villagers of a hamlet could locate the animal and as they found it difficult to keep track after sunset, they ignited dried up bamboo pieces. It is said the blazing flame attracted the birds which the superstitious villagers took them as divine delicacies. Since then, the tradition to attract the avian creatures continue.
According to the Forest Department sources at Haflong, in order to prevent this killing, awareness campaign was taken up among the villagers. Even six years ago, not less than 300 birds at a time could be seen flying in the ‘mysterious and magnetic zone’. Their number presently has come down to a bare 60 to 70 birds. It was way back in 1980s that a watch tower was raised to keep a watch on the birds in the valley. A high voltage beaming light was installed to guide the birds away from the burning objects of the villagers.
Whatever may be the outcome of the 1st International Jatinga Festival that concluded today, people of trouble torn Dima Hasao district wish that the killing of birds or their suicide would end and Jatinga Valley would like Kaziranga or Manas Sanctuary become a favourite tourist destination. (The Sentinel)

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