Several residents of villages around Odisha’s Chilika lake have turned a new leaf in the past few years. They hunted and poached birds in the area before. But today, they are their guardians.
Around 400 residents of 20 villages, most of whom are former hunters, have come forward to protect the birds in the lake, Nanda Kishor Bhujabal, vice-president of Wild Odisha, an organisation that works to motivate villagers against poaching confirmed.
Chilika is the largest brackish water lake in India and is usually thronged by migratory birds for several months in a year.
The Chilika wildlife division engaged in its annual anti-poaching camp near many villages. The camp is set up by the division ahead of the arrival of wild birds in the month of October. “We decided not to hunt the birds, when some wildlife officers and others motivated us and engaged us in anti-poaching camps for a five-month period,” says a villager.
Prafulla Chandra Routray of Sundarpur, Kishore Behera of Mangalajodi and Umuriddin Khan of Sorana village, all erstwhile hunters, are today working as auto driver, tourist guide-cum-boatman and the president of the bird protection committee respectively.
Sarat Chandra Mishra, assistant conservator of forest, Chilika wildlife, claimed that the support of locals had not only increased the population of migratory birds in the lake, but also helped reduce poaching cases in the area.
A record number of 12, 42,826 birds of 190 different species were found at the lake last winter as against 11, 05,040 birds of 184 species the year before, sources said.
Choodarani Murmu, range officer, Tangi wildlife range, said poaching cases in the area had reduced. “Some 16 poaching cases were registered and 29 poachers arrested in 2015-16. This number came down to six cases in 2020-21. As many as nine persons were arrested for bird hunting that year,” she added.
About Chillika Lake
- Chilika Lake is a brackish water lake and a shallow lagoon with estuarine character spread across the districts of Puri, Khurda and Ganjam in the state of Odisha in eastern India.
- Fed by 52 rivers and rivulets, the waterspread area of Chilika varies between 900 to 1165 sq. km. during summers and monsoon respectively.
- The pear shaped lagoon is about 64.5 km. long and its width varies from 5 to 18 km. It is connected to the Bay of Bengal by a 32 km long and 1.5 km wide channel that mostly runs parallel to the Bay separated by a narrow spit whose width varies between 100 m to several kilometres.
- A number of islands are present in the lagoon, prominent among which are Krushnaprasad, Nalaban, Kalijai, Somolo and Birds Islands.
- A survey of the fauna at Chilika by the Zoological Survey of India in 1985-87 recorded over 800 species in and around the lagoon. The list includes a number of rare, threatened and endangered species including the Barakudia limbless skink.
- It is considered to be the largest lagoon in India and counted amongst the largest lagoons in the world. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent.
- It is one of the hotspot of biodiversity in the country, and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened Animals inhabit the Lake area for atleast part of their life cycle.
- On account of its rich bio-diversity, Chilika lake was designated as a “Ramsar Site“, i.e. a wetland of International Importance.
- The Nalaban Island within the lake is notified as a Bird Sanctuary under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
- The Lake is a highly productive ecosystem, with rich fishery resources. The rich fishing grounds sustain the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fisherfolk who live in and around the lake. It has a great heritage value and maritime trade to the far east countries used to take place from here.
- It is also the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent and supports some of the largest congregation of migratory birds from large parts of Asia, particularly during the winters that arrive from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas to feed and breed in its fertile waters.
- The Chilika lake is of estuarine character in an ephemeral environment. It has been indicated in the geological studies that in the Pleistocene era, the north-eastern region was lying under the sea and the coastline extended along the western shore of the lake.
- It is supported by the fact that the Konark Sun Temple which was originally built on the seashore is now about 3 km away from the coast. A fossil found on the south-western edge of the respect indicates the formation of the lake about 3500 to 4000 years ago.
- The lake has several islands and form important habitat for the birds and animals. The hydrological system of the lake comprises of inflow of freshwater on a perennial basis from the Mahanadi river, and several rivers which are not perennial.
- Chilika lake is a assemblage of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem, that support amazing biodiversity. It is a home to highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. As per the 2013 census, about 150 dolphins are found here and is, therefore, considered as the largest lagoon supported population of the World.
- The health of the ecosystem as per the assessment made by Chilika Development Authority in collaboration with Maryland University, USA, is considered as excellent. The sea grass meadows of the lake are expanding in spite of anthropogenic pressure, which is a sign of healthy ecosystem.
- The lake is also regulated under Coastal Regulation Zone Notification – 2011. The lake has also been designated as a Ramsar site since 1981. The lake was included in the Montreux Record (Threatened list) in 1993 by Ramsar Secretariat due to the change in the ecological character of the lake ecosystem. Susequently, however, due to successful restoration of the lake ecosystem by Chilika Development Authority it was removed from the Montreux Record in 2002 (first site from Asia).