Leptoptilos dubius 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Ciconiiformes Ciconiidae

Scientific Name: Leptoptilos dubius (Gmelin, 1789)
Common Name(s):
English Greater Adjutant
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
Identification information: 145-150 cm. Huge, dark stork with very thick bill and pendulous neck-pouch. Pinkish naked head, white neck-ruff. Pale grey greater coverts and tertials contrasting with otherwise dark upperwing. Underwing-coverts paler than flight feathers. Juvenile has narrower bill than adult, denser head and neck-down and, initially, all dark wings. Similar spp. Lesser Adjutant L. javanicus is smaller, lacks neck pouch, has black greater coverts and tertials.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd;C2a(ii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Choudhury, A., Chunkino, G., Clements, T., Htin Hla, T., Li, Z., Rahmani, A., Mandal, J. & Mahood, S.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Davidson, P., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Tobias, J. & Ashpole, J
This wide-ranging and long-lived species has a very small population which is declining very rapidly. For these reasons it is classified as Endangered.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species was previously widespread and common across much of South and continental South-East Asia but declined dramatically during the first half of the 20th century (Birdlife International 2001). It is known to breed in Assam (at least 650-800 birds, or more [Choudhury 2000]) and Bihar (more than 350 birds [A. Choudhury in litt. 2016]), India, and at the Tonle Sap lake (c.150 pairs [Visal and Mahood 2015]), Cambodia (T. Clements in litt. 2007). The species was reported to be breeding in Bihar, India, in 2004, and a small breeding population was discovered in the state on the Ganga and Kosi river floodplains in 2006 (Mishra and Mandal 2009). The population there appears to be increasing, with at least 156 estimated in 2008 and over 300 individuals in 2011, up from 78 in 2007 (Mishra and Mandal 2009, Kahn 2011). Kamrup District in Assam is known to be a stronghold for the species, with almost 75% of its population in Assam found in this district (Barman and Sharma in press). Recent records from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Thailand are presumed to refer to wanderers from India and Cambodia. Huge numbers once bred in Myanmar, but there have been just two recent reports from Meinmahla Kyun in 1998 and Kachin State in 2006 (G. Chunkino in litt. 2006). There are no confirmed records from Laos in recent years. Breeding success had been extremely poor in Assam with the number of nests in colonies declining sharply and for unknown reasons (Goswami and Patar 2006). However it is now considered to be breeding successfully in Assam with numbers increasing at a slow but steady rate (J. Mandal in litt. 2016). Large flocks of a few hundred birds are still noted around the city of Guwahati, which may provide feeding areas for around half of the species's world population (Choudhury 2008). Available data suggest that Cambodian populations declined heavily in the decades up to and including the 1990s. By 2001, several breeding sites recorded in the 1990s had been abandoned. Since 2001, protection measures were put in place at two known breeding sites (Prek Toal on the Tonle Sap and Kulen Promtep in Preah Vihear) which led to a stabilisation of national population declines and possible minor recoveries (Clements et al. 2007a,b). However the colony at Kulen Promtep is now extinct owing to forest clearance within the area (S. Mahood in litt. 2016).

Countries occurrence:
Bangladesh; Cambodia; India; Nepal; Thailand; Viet Nam
Possibly extinct:
Lao People's Democratic Republic; Myanmar
Regionally extinct:
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:1200000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:11-100Continuing decline in number of locations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Upper elevation limit (metres):550
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The total population is estimated to number 800-1,200 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 1,200-1,800 individuals in total. This is based on estimates of 650-800 birds in Assam, India, plus 150-200 birds in Cambodia, as well as at least 156 birds in Bihar state, India, which may have dispersed from the Assam population.

Trend Justification:  This species's population is suspected to be decreasing very rapidly, in line with levels of direct exploitation and habitat destruction, particularly lowland deforestation and the felling of nest-trees, and drainage, conversion, pollution and over-exploitation of wetlands. Given the species's longevity, population trends are measured over a three-generation period of 45 years and hence the impacts have been severe.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:800-1200Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:1Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:Yes
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation:100

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:While breeding in the dry season (October-April/May) it inhabits wetlands, nesting in tall trees with closed canopies and bamboo clumps around nesting trees, and historically on cliffs. Breeding is thought to coincide with the dry season in order to take advantage of abundant prey as water levels recede (Singha et al. 2003). In north-east India, it occurs close to and within urban areas (Barman and Sharma in press, A. Choudhury in litt. 2016), feeding around wetlands in the breeding season, and dispersing to scavenge at rubbish dumps, abattoirs and burial grounds at other times. In Cambodia, it breeds in freshwater flooded forest and areas of dry forest with ephemeral pools, otherwise dispersing to seasonally inundated forest, carcass dumps, tall wet grassland, mangroves and intertidal flats. It generally inhabits the lowlands but is occasionally found up to 1,500 m (Elliott and Kirwan 2016).

Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):15
Movement patterns:Full Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The key threats are direct exploitation, particularly at nesting colonies, habitat destruction, including felling of nest-trees, and drainage, conversion, pollution and over-exploitation of wetlands. Additionally, the Indian population is threatened by contaminated open rubbish dumps where pollutants are disposed along with carcasses and foodstuffs and it is also known to accidentally ingest polythene bags if food is wrapped inside (J. Mandal in litt. 2016). It has been suggested that recent nesting failures in Assam may be due to disease (Goswami and Patar 2006), which may have a negative impact upon the species in the future. Young birds may also become entangled in fishing nets and the species may suffer from the disturbance of arboreal animals, competition for nesting habitat from the Lesser Adjutant L. javanicus and the exacerbation of persecution levels owing to its pest status (Mishra and Mandal 2009). Poisoning of small wetlands to catch fish in the dry forests of northern and eastern Cambodia potentially poses a significant threat, and in Guwahati, India, pesticide use at open rubbish dumps where storks flocked to feed led to several mortalities in 2005. The population at Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Plains of Cambodia is now extinct owing to clearance of forest in the area (S. Mahood in litt. 2016). A major fire occurred in Prek Toal in early 2016. It is not yet known how this has impacted on the species (S. Mahood in litt. 2016).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
In Assam, it occurs in Kaziranga, Manas and Dibru-Saikhowa National Parks, and Pabitora, Deepor Beel, Laokhowa, Burhachapori and Pani-Dihing Sanctuaries (A. Choudhury in litt. 2016). Since 1991, there have been conservation awareness programmes in Assam. In Nagaon district, Assam, Green Guards (a local NGO) had a project to protect nesting trees and rehabilitate chicks fallen from nests but this has now stopped (A. Choudhury in litt. 2012). In Cambodia, the breeding colony at Prek Toal is a core area of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. Greater Adjutants historically bred at other sites on the Tonle Sap, but these colonies were abandoned by 2001. Conservation actions to reduce chick and egg collection and other forms of disturbance to the breeding colony at Prek Toal have been in place since the late 1990s, with permanent teams of protectors employed since 2001. Since 2001, c.95% of waterbird egg and chick collection has been prevented at Prek Toal. It is included in waterbird conservation awareness material in Laos and Cambodia. In Kamrup District, Assam a successful community conservation programme ran from 2009 to 2014 and during this period there were no records of nesting trees being cut down and the number of successful nests grew from 65 in 2010-2011 to 148 in 2013-2014 (Barman and Sharma in prep.).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further surveys in Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. Investigate seasonal movements and threats. Protect nesting and feeding-sites outside protected areas, and plant trees in suitable areas; the nest payment system in Cambodia may be a suitable model. Rewarding the owners of nesting trees may be a means to encourage pride in the conservation of the species (A.R. Rahmani in litt. 2012). Promote strict control of pesticide use around feeding areas. Continue and strengthen on-going conservation actions at the Prek Toal colony, Tonle Sap lake. Establish a wildlife protection office at Tonle Sap lake. Draft and enforce waterbird conservation legislation at Tonle Sap lake. Expand conservation awareness programmes and develop a structured captive breeding programme to support future reintroductions and population supplementation. Initiate a relief programme and promote alternative livelihoods to communities dependent on harvesting large waterbird colonies in Cambodia. Widely implement a long-term policy of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing chicks that fall from nests for natural reasons, such as during thunder storms (Singha and Rahmani 2006, Singha et al. 2006, J. Mandal in litt. 2016), and consider placing nets under nest-trees and conducting regular checks at colonies (Singha et al. 2006).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.5. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.5. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability:Suitable season:breeding major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.7. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Mangrove Vegetation Above High Tide Level
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:No
4. Grassland -> 4.6. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Seasonally Wet/Flooded
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:No
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.5. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Lakes (over 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.7. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Marshes/Pools (under 8ha)
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.1. Artificial/Terrestrial - Arable Land
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:No
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.5. Artificial/Terrestrial - Urban Areas
suitability:Suitable season:non-breeding major importance:Yes
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.2. Species recovery
3. Species management -> 3.4. Ex-situ conservation -> 3.4.1. Captive breeding/artificial propagation
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
6. Livelihood, economic & other incentives -> 6.1. Linked enterprises & livelihood alternatives
6. Livelihood, economic & other incentives -> 6.4. Conservation payments

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Invasive species control or prevention:No
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:No
  Included in international legislation:No
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:No
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.2. Small-holder farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.3. Agro-industry farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.2. Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines  
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.3. Other ecosystem modifications
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.3. Indirect ecosystem effects

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.3. Herbicides and pesticides
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Negligible declines  
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.4. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines  
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats

Bibliography [top]

Barman, P.D. and Sharma, D.K. In press. Conservation of Endangered Greater Adjutant Stork in Assam, India. Wildlife Institute of India ENVIS: 192-199 (in press).

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Choudhury, A. 2000. The birds of Assam. Gibbon Books and WWF-India, Guwahati, India.

Choudhury, A. 2008. Counting large gatherings of globally threatened Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius. Indian Birds 4(4): 133-135.

Clements, T.J., Garrett, L., Tan, S., Kong, K.S., Pech, B., Thong, S.; Rours, V. 2007. Bird nest protection programme in the Northern Plains 2003-2007.

Clements, T. J.; O’Kelly, H.; Sun, V. 2007. Monitoring of Large Waterbirds at Prek Toal, Tonle Sap Great Lake, 2001-2007.

Elliott, A. and Kirwan, G.M. 2016. Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Goes, F.; Hong Chamnan; Suon Mean; Luon Keang; Meas Rethy. 1998. Waterbird counting and survey at Prek Toal and Boeng Chhma/Moat Khla, Phnom Penh.

Goswami, S. K.; Patar, P. J. 2007. Fall in the number of Greater Adjutant nests in Nagaon, Assam, India.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. Available at: (Accessed: 07 December 2016).

Kahn, I. 2011. Endangered Garuda takes wing in Bihar. News One.

Mishra, A.; Mandal, J. N. 2009. Discovery of a breeding ground of the Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius and their conservation in the floodlands of Bihar, India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 106(2): 190-197.

Singha, H.; Goswami, S. K.; Phukan, R.; Talukdar, B. K. 2006. Rehabilitation of captive-reared Greater Adjutants Leptoptilos dubius in Assam. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 103(2-3): 315-320.

Singha, H.; Rahmani, A. R. 2006. Ecology, population and conservation of Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius in Assam, India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 103(2-3): 264-269.

Singha, H.; Rahmani, A. R.; Coulter, M. C.; Javed, S. 2003. Breeding behaviour of the Greater Adjutant-Stork Leptoptilos dubius in Assam, India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 100(1): 9-26.

Tree of Life Web Project. 2008. Leptoptilos dubius. Greater Adjutant. Version 27 June 2008 (temporary). Available at: (Accessed: 01/08/2013).

Visal, S. and Mahood, S. 2015. Wildlife monitoring at Prek Toal Ramsar site, Tonle Sap Great Lake 2013 and 2014. Wildlife Conservation Society, Cambodia Program, Phnom Penh.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2016. Leptoptilos dubius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22697721A93633471. . Downloaded on 20 September 2018.
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