Op-Ed: The Challenge Of Safeguarding Chilika

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: In a few months from now Chilika, the largest brackish water lake of Asia, will be playing host to lakhs of migratory birds that turn the lagoon into a plumed wonder during the winter months every year. As the Chilika Wildlife Division officials gear up for the winter congregation of the winged guests the focal point of their attention would be the 15.53 sq km Nalabana avian sanctuary located in the core area of lake which is an internationally acclaimed wetland.

It has to be jealously guarded by the officials against illegal intrusion by local fishermen who become hyperactive during the monsoon months that precede the winter. Though fishing is banned in the sanctuary area round the year local fishermen try to sneak in during the monsoon months when it is submerged in water. If caught they plead not guilty and cite the non-visibility of boundary markers as an excuse. Since these markers also go under the water in the rainy season they are sometimes difficult to sight but local fishing community members are so familiar with the area that can know them by habit.

This makes enforcement of the ban a big challenge for the authorities. Seizure of intruding boats and arrests take place almost regularly during this period. Forest guards keep a sharp eye on the trespassers and boat patrolling is intensified in the area which has three watch towers.

Nalabana is favoured by the birds because they get enough food stock on the mudflats of the island. Though birds can be seen in almost all areas of Chilika during the winter their largest congregation is in Nalabana which is among the most famous bird sanctuaries of the country.

However, during the summer months the island faces a typical problem—that of raids by herds of buffaloes from different parts of the lake. While the bovines often trample upon bird eggs lying in the grass on the positive side sustained grazing by them helps expose the mud flats on the island. The sanctuary, thus, is the most fiercely guarded area of the lake which has also been infamous for bird poaching.

As the winged guests from different parts of the country and abroad add a splash of colour to the lake in the winter the fear of poachers’ guns also haunts them. Birds are killed every year despite intensified patrolling and arrests. However, the incidence of poaching has come down in the last few years, thanks to the sustained efforts of forest and wildlife authorities.

In 2018 as many as 19 anti-poaching camps had been set up in the Chilika area to ensure the safety of the visiting avians. The highest number of 10 camps were established at Tangi but vigil was also tight at places like Mangaljodi and Bhushandpur which have reported poaching cases in the past.

Efforts have also been made to sensitize the poachers and motivate them to take up more constructive work. In the past there were attempts at weaning them away from bird poaching by offering them alternative livelihood options but these initiatives met with limited success. However, environmentalists and bird lovers are hopeful that renewed efforts would yield results. What is at stake is not the just the life of the visiting avians but the entire ecology of Chilika which has to be preserved at any cost.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)