Located in Assam, a state in northeastern India, is a scenic village filled with lush greenery and thriving wildlife. Jatinga is a beautiful oasis located on a ridge in Dima Hasao district, 210 miles south of Guwahati and it has an unusual claim to fame. Each year, between September and November, birds take to the sky and commit mass suicide. The event is not limited to migratory birds, local birds do the same. Bird species, forty-four have been identified, come from nearby valleys and hill slopes. Species include Black and Tiger Bitterns, Pond Heron’s, and Kingfishers among others.
Like clockwork, at the same time every year, the birds take flight and take their own lives. Just after sunset, during the late monsoon months, the birds take to the skies, crashing into buildings and trees. A local tribe, the Zeme Nagas who lived on the island in the 1900’s, believed evil spirits were the blame for the phenomena, causing them to sell their land to the Jaintias in 1905. The Jaintias saw the event as a gift from God and eagerly awaited the yearly occurrence.
Scientists have studied the bird suicides for years and have come to some conclusions as to what the cause might be. Studies have concluded that the birds are disoriented by the fog caused by the monsoon and are attracted by the village lights. They fly toward the light and ultimately to their death. It was also discovered that the most “suicidal” species lose their habitat due to flooding during the monsoon season. High velocity winds may also be a cause.
It was also discovered that locals turn on their lights to lure the birds in. Once they are close enough, or collide with the rocks or structures, the villagers attack the birds with sticks, ultimately killing them. The purpose for this annual culling is to obtain food as the birds are considered a delicacy by locals. Jatinga falls in the flight path of migratory species, so the birds naturally head in that direction.
Scientists are still trying to figure out why the birds are taking flight at night, a time when they would normally be asleep.
There has been a spike in local tourism and many make the trip to see the spectacle first hand. Visitors can witness the yearly culling of local and migratory birds, then partake in a feast at what is known as the Jatinga Festival. The number of birds caught has declined in recent years due (in part) to the festival, but also due to development and environmental degradation.
Although wildlife conservation groups have tried to create awareness within the community of villagers living in Jatinga, the process has been difficult and has been slow to progress as many of the villagers are illiterate. The festival is now deeply rooted in their culture and ceasing the practice is not a subject some locals can grasp.
Have you ever visited Jatinga and witnessed this event? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!
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