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Location India, Assam
Central coordinates 94o 0.85' East  26o 53.65' North
IBA criteria A1, A2, A4iii
Area 88,000 ha
Altitude 0
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Bombay Natural History Society



Site description Majuli Island in the Brahmaputra River is located about 15 km from the district headquarters at Jorhat in eastern Assam. It is perhaps the second largest river island in the world, and comprises a large riverine island with innumerable small islets, locally called chapories. Originally, the island was a part of the Jorhat plain, south of the Brahmaputra River but southward diversion of the main channel of the river (c. 300 years ago) has resulted in the formation of this island. The northern channel is now known as the Kherkatia and Luitsutis. The topography of the area is flat floodplain with lakes (beels) and marshes on the one hand and anthropogenic structures such as embankments and roads on the other. Tuni river flows through the middle of the site for some distance. The main island is surrounded by more than twenty chapories (sandbars) (Bhagabati and Lahkar 1998). Majuli, with its fertile floodplains and highly productive wetlands, forms ideal habitats for a variety of birds. It not only supports diverse resident birds, but also attracts a large number of migratory birds, including some uncommon species. The influence of Vaishnavite culture on the island, which restricts killing animals for meat has resulted in great tolerance for wildlife and respect for environment, not seen in other parts of the Brahmaputra Valley. Majuli continues to be a good example of the symbiotic relation between nature and culture, which traditionally provides a congenial environment for the protection of all life forms (Bhagabati and Lahkar 1998). High rainfall, high moisture content in the soil and flat plains favour the growth of evergreen and deciduous trees, grasses, a wide variety of marsh vegetation, bamboos and canes (Bhagabati and Lahkar 1998).

Key Biodiversity 

AVIFAUNA: More than 250 species of birds have been recorded (A. U. Choudhury pers. comm. 2002). These include historic records of many endangered species. The Black-breasted or Black-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis nipalensis, Marsh Spotted Babbler Pellorneum palustre and Jerdon’s Babbler Chrysomma altirostre were recorded at Kamalabari (Stevens 1914-15). In winter, the Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis can be observed in small numbers in all major beels, especially Chakuli, Bhereki, Duboritoli and Saru-Kakarikata. Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus is a common breeding bird, nests are sometimes found in tall trees close to human settlements. Greater Adjutant L. dubius is rare, or seen occasionally. No nest has been found in recent years. A nest of Pallas’s Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus was found on a Ficus tree, near Duboritoli beel (Bhagabati and Lahkar 1998). Majuli is famous for its waterfowl, both resident and migrant. The Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica sometimes gathers in hundreds on large beels, along with other waterfowl. Northern Pintail Anas acuta, Northern Shoveller A. clypeata, Gadwall A. strepera, and Garganey A. querquedula are abundant. Three Falcated Teal Anas falcata were found in Bhereki beel, together with other ducks (Bhagabati and Lahkar 1998). On the river banks, the Brahminy Duck or Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea is common in winter, along with the Bar-headed Anser indicus and the Greylag geese A. anser. Swamp Francolin Francolinus gularis is found in the grassland, but in very low numbers, mainly due to restriction of its habitat. Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis was also reported occasionally, but there does not appear to be a viable population in Majuli. Being closer to the northern bank of Brahmaputra, Majuli must have had Bengal florican habitats before cultivation took over (Rahmani et al. 1990). The Bengal Florican is still present on similar but uninhabited islands near Kaziranga, only about 40 km downstream. The Bishwanath plain on the northwestern side of Majuli was once a good florican area. Choudhury (2002) mentions that florican is sighted sporadically in scattered grasslands, mostly in the chapories of Brahmaputra River. Therefore, it is likely that this bird is also found in Majuli and adjoining areas. The Common Crane Grus grus regularly visits Majuli in small numbers (5-10 birds), especially in an area called Bhakat chapori near Auniati-Alimurgaon. This chapori is rich in grasses and sedges. Due to cultural tolerance of birds and other wildlife by the majority of inhabitants of Majuli Island, the birds are left unmolested. It is not uncommon to see a flock of duck swimming or roosting 10-15 m from a house. Though the whole island is inhabited, long-term viability of many resident birds is assured. Two globally Critical Gyps species of vultures, two Endangered species and nine Vulnerable species have been identified till now - perhaps many more are yet to be added in the checklist. Although no systematic census of waterfowl has been conducted, it is likely that the total population of waterfowl in all the beels of Majuli and adjoining Brahmaputra River could be much above 20,000, thus qualifying the site for IBA criteria A4iii.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Majuli Island is thickly populated, so there is not much natural forest left. Till the first half of the last century, Tiger was frequently sighted in different parts of Majuli, but presently, it is only occasionally seen (Bhagabati and Lahkar 1998). A small population of the wild Water Buffalo Bubalus arnee (= bubalis) is found in the Banaria chapori. Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak was common, but now extremely rare due to hunting.

There is a migratory population of Asian Elephant Elephas maximus. Hog Deer Axis porcinus is another species sometimes seen in the wet grassland areas. In the rivers, Gangetic River Dolphin Plantanista gangetica is not uncommon. Numerous beels, streams and rivers provide ideal habitats for turtles and amphibians.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Swamp Francolin Francolinus gularis resident  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Baer's Pochard Aythya baeri winter  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus resident  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius breeding  2004  present  A1  Endangered 
Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis resident  2004  present  A1  Near Threatened 
Pallas's Fish-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus resident  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis non-breeding  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga winter  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris non-breeding  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis resident  2004  present  A1  Critically Endangered 
Marsh Babbler Pellorneum palustre resident  2004  present  A1, A2  Vulnerable 
Jerdon's Babbler Chrysomma altirostre resident  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Black-breasted Parrotbill Paradoxornis flavirostris resident  2004  present  A1, A2  Vulnerable 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds unknown  2004  20,000 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest   -
Shrubland   -
Grassland   -
Wetlands (inland)   -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
Notes: Agriculture
nature conservation and research -
Notes: Nature Conservation

Acknowledgements Key contributors: Kulojyoti Lahkar, Abani Kumar Bhagabati, Anwaruddin Choudhury and Tilak Ch. Sarmah.

References 

Bhagabati, A. K. and Lahkar, K. (1998) Report: Some aspects of Biodiversity and its conservation in the River Islands of Brahmaputra, Assam. WWF-India NE Region and Assam Science Society, Guwahati.

Choudhury, A. U. (2002) Current status and conservation of the Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis in northeast India, pp. 90-94. In : Birds of wetlands and grasslands: Proceedings of the Salim Ali Centenary Seminar on Conservation of avifauna of wetlands and grasslands. Eds: Rahmani, A.R. and Ugra, G. Total. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai.

Rahmani, A. R., Narayan, G. Rosalind, L. and Sankaran, R. (1990) Status of the Bengal Florican in India. In: Status and Ecology of the Lesser and Bengal floricans. Final Report. Pp. 155. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay.

Stevens, H. (1914-15) Birds of upper Assam. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 23: 234-268, 547-570, 721-736.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Majuli. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 27/11/2014

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