Image
Jatinga a village on a ridge, is located in Dima Hasao district, Assam State in India. It is 330 kilometres (210 mi) south of Guwahati. It is most famous for the phenomenon of birds "committing suicide". Although the birds do not commit suicide and are actually killed, the myth of the suicides has spread far and wide among common people.The village is inhabited by about 2,500 Khasi-pnar tribal people and a few assamese. At the end of monsoon months especially on moonless and foggy dark nights between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., birds are not disturbed by the locals but out of the dark northern skies will start to descend as they are attracted to lights. These dazed birds are captured using bamboo poles by the locals.The local tribals first took this natural phenomenon to be spirits flying from the sky to terrorize them. This phenomenon is not confined to a single species, with tiger bittern, black bittern, little egret, pond heron, Indian pitta, and kingfishers all being affected,as well as hill partridge, green pigeon, emerald dove, necklaced laughingthrush, black drongo.The birds are mostly juvenile, according to Assam's best known ornithologist, Anwaruddin Choudhury.The late naturalist E. P. Gee brought this phenomenon to global attention in the 1960s. He drove to Jatinga with famed ornithologist late Salim Ali.The cause of it is likely to be disorientation at high altitudes and high speed winds due to the widespread fog characteristic at the time.The zoological survey of India sent Sudhir Sengupta to unravel this mystery. The most recent description of the phenomenon and its comparison with similar incidents elsewhere in Malaysia, Philippines, and Mizoram is found in the book The Birds of Assam by Anwaruddin Choudhury. He concluded that the birds, mostly juveniles and local migrants, are disturbed by high velocity winds at their roost. When the disturbed birds fly towards lights as refuge they are hit with bamboo poles and killed or injured.Conservation groups and wildlife officials in India have taken steps to prevent wanton killing of birds across India, creating awareness in the illiterate villagers. Bikash Brahma, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Dima Hasao, stated the killings as well as the number of birds arriving at the village has been declining gradually since the last few years. Much of this is due to loss of habitat caused by "development and environment degradation".After monsoon season, usually in September and October and only occurring on dark moonless nights, 44 species of bird in Jatinga suddenly become disturbed between the hours of 6-9:30pm. Strangely becoming disoriented, the birds plunge toward the torches and lights of the cities. However, the term suicide is a misnomer for a couple of reasons. While birds have been known to occasionally plunge to their deaths (though almost certainly not intentionally), usually it is the villagers in Jatinga who do the actual killing. Believing the birds to be “spirits flying from the sky to terrorize them” the villagers took to capturing them with bamboo poles and beating the birds to death. Despite the danger and the repeat performances every year, the birds continue to fly to their death in this small area of 1500 by 200 meters. A number of theories have been proposed, one suggesting that a combination of high altitude, high winds, and fog leads disorients the birds and they are attracted to the light of the village (bright light itself has been known to disorient birds) as a source of flight stabilization. Another theory suggests that the weather of the region leads to “changes in the magnetic qualities of the underground water” causing the birds disoriented state. Wildlife and bird societies in India have gone to the village to educate them about the phenomenon in an attempt to stop the mass killings of the birds. Since then bird deaths have decreased by forty percent. Government officials in Assam are hoping to use the phenomenon to attract tourists to the small city, and some work has gone into creating accommodations for visitors in Jatinga. The phenomenon is covered in detail in the book Birds of Assam by ornithologist Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury.