An attempt to develop less-known wetlands of southern Rajasthan into tourist spots and a heaven for bird-watchers involving a community-driven participation is bearing fruits.
This unique idea, conceived by the forest department and bird-watchers, has produced a group of volunteers, called Pakshi Mitras (bird’s friends) which is ready to keep waters in pristine state for winged visitors.
Southern Rajasthan has a large number of waterbodies and sanctuaries and they attract birds from different parts of the world. Wetlands like Kishan Kareri, Bhadwai, Menar and Nagawali are about 40 to 70 km from Udaipur, which is famous for its lakes.
The wetlands at Rajsamand, Gapsagar, Udaisagar and Ranakpur are also not far off. The taxonomic groups of aquatic birds like ducks, geese, rails and wadersets are a common sight. Arboreal, terrestrial and grassland birds ar also seen.
To protect this tender ‘treasure’, a proposal to connect local community towetland and its habitat was presented to the department by Pradeep Sukhwal, a school owner and bird lover since childhood. Two years ago the forest department chose 5 waterbodies and decided to hold a workshop for 5 interested persons from the nearby villages.
They, in turn, sensitised other bird lovers and the flock of Pakshi Mitras grewto 25. They were jointly trained by forest department’s Satish Sharma and Pradeep Sukhwal. After the initial training, all Pakshi Mitras were given binoculars.
The training included identifying 156 species (both aquatic and terrestrial), first aid for birds, dos and don'ts around a wetland and community participation.
The movement has been a feather in forest department's cap as migratory birds and tourists have startedarriving in large numbers.Wildlife conservator Rahul Bhatnagartold DH, “Two years ago when we started this movement we were not sure of the results but huge community participation and constant maintenance have made these wetlands eco friendly. Besides maintaining the waterbodies, volunteers have also planted saplings on the banks which are helpful for birds flying short distances.”
Forest department officials point out that they have spotted the eggs of Sarus Crane. They claim that the efforts were paying dividends as the bird lays eggs for hatching only in places where water is clean and there is no interference by humans.
“With the help of these volunteers, the department has been able to record birds arriving at these wetlands. This first-hand information helps us to keep track of the breedingand new arrivals,” added Sohel Majboor, divisional forest officer, Udaipur.
An innovative and sensitive step adopted by Pakshi Mitras is the use of horses for bird-watching instead of motor vehicles that are noisy. Sound scares away birds. They also advise visitors to wear subtle colour clothes so that birds are not frightened. “It gives them an opportunity to earn from tourists occasionally and reduce the pollution caused by vehicles. The beauty is that Pakshi Mitras are not expecting any money,” Pradeep Sukhwal added.
The conservation of theseless-popular waterbodies has brought a joy to many bird lovers. White pelican, dalmatian pelican, crater flamingo, Raddy shalduck, pintail, red head ibis, flamingo, Sarus crane can now be easily spotted.
Another developmentwhich has helped in creating awareness about the birds is the Bird Fair and Festivals. Dungarpur and Udaipur have chosen to follow the footsteps of Jaipur's much-acclaimed Bird Festival.
Dungarpur's former collector and a bird lover Vikram Singh told DH, “It’s very important to create awareness about birds among children. Inspired by Bird Festival of Jaipur, I tried to replicate it in Dungarpur. There should be more involvement of students, women and youngsters.”
The department is now planning to host another round of training which will emphasise on rescue of birds. Slowly this community mobilisation is also bringing the concept of eco tourism.
Ecologists see it as a big step towards conservation as the arrival of birds is a very good indicator of clean environment. Noted ecologist and former director of the Bombay Natural History Society Asad R Rahmani told DH “Birds are very sensitive to pollution, both water and air pollution. They leave polluted areas. Some large birds such as black-necked stork, painted stork, pelicans, oriental darters are good indicators that waterbody has sufficient fish. These birds cannot live in over-fished wetlands. Similarly, bird species such as bar-headed goose and greyleg goose show that a wetland has good submerged vegetation and grazing areas around the wetland as these large geese are strictly vegetarian,” Rahmani said.
Krishna Kareri is a very good wetland and unpolluted due to the efforts of villagers. “We must increase the number of young Pakshi Mitras in Krishna Kareri and teach them to identify birds. We can popularise the wetland as birding destination,” added Rahmani.
Efforts made under the Swachh Bharat campaign have also indirectly helped in keeping waterbodies clean. Villagers who earlier used waterbodies for washing have now built toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
“The people of villages adjoining Kishan Kareri and Mernar have been in the forefront to build toilets in their houses. Now each house has a separate toilet and village has been declared open defecation free which is a huge achievement,” says District Collector of Udaipur Rohit Gupta.
The awareness spread by Pakshi Mitras has the additional impact on people’s daily habits too. “Unlike other places people living in the villages adjoining the wetlands are already aware of the importance of toilets and eager to get them constructed to save water bodies from pollution,” Gupta added.