(Mangaljodi bird sanctuary is a transition from the brink of the extinction to the epitome of avian conservation and a model of NGO Wild Odisha’s earnest effort.)
Mangaljodi once an infamous hamlet is now is an eco-conserved tourist’s delight. Perched on the shore of Chilika the largest brackish water lagoon, the wet-land is the habitat of some 230 indigenous species and a favourite destination of nearly 100 exotic migratory birds. The secluded wetland and its favourable pray base offer avian a perfect eco-system to nest and breed in its fauna.
In the interface of Bay Of Bengal Ocean, the marshy wetland is now celebrating avian carnival with more than 400000 of birds of different species in the winter. Birds mostly from the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, Eurasia and Arctic region migrates to Mangaljodi and its adjacent vicinity in November-February to escape the chilling cold from their home bases.
Mangaljodi exemplifies how to create a sustainable source of livelihood by enhancing the eco-system. Recently Mangaljodi declared as International Bird Area and has bestowed with a national conservation award.
Back in the 90s, the scenario of Mangalajodi was quite different, only mere 5000 birds were left even in the peak of winter. There was extensive hunting of birds by the natives. The proficient poachers net trap or poisoned the birds and use to sell them in the local market from Rs 20 to Rs 80 depending on the demand of species. The number ramped up monstrously by poison killing.
In 1997 a non-government organization ‘Wild Odisha’ noticed the worst decline and initiated a mission to conserve the birds. To generate awareness about the eco-conservation among the lowbrow poaching villagers was the biggest challenge for the NGO. Mr Nandakishore Bhujabala a man with a great foresight took the rein to gain the confidence of the villagers. He visited the village quite often, empathized with their sorrows and joys; he forged a friendship and earned their trust. Then Bhujabala started counselling people about the importance of the eco-system, perilous consequences of its extinction and the need for its preservation. Through wheeze conversation by citing religious and ethical unjust of poaching of birds he pursued people’s understanding. Though it was a slow process, still over time he succeeded to convince their mind.
The rehabilitation and restoration of the livelihood of poachers was another difficult task for the NGO as the local has no other means of living other than haunting and fishing. Wild Odisha chalked out a tourism program to support the livelihood of poachers by employing them in the project. The prospects of a respectable lifestyle and legitimate income through eco-tourism appealed their conscience and they shed off poaching. Just in 3 years in December 2000 a bird protection committee ‘Sri Sri Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samiti’ was formed. The effort trumpeted when an intractable poacher Kishore Behera conceded and joined the committee which drew other poachers following their master.
Then Chilika Development Authority recognized the actions and laid its hand to accelerate the program. The committee 0f 6 rose to 25. The committee espoused with forest staff of wildlife and made a strategy to keep vigil the marshland. Poacher’s knowledge served as blessings in disguise. They guarded the entire land day and night even took a constant count of nests and eggs, to protect the avian. They approached environmentalist and biologist for better advice. Turning of Mangaljodi from bird poaching to bird shielding is axiomatic of Wild Odisha’s undeterred effort.
Without the effort of Wild Odisha, forest department alone would not have made this mission possible. Its Wild Odisha’s arduous endeavour and the earnest cooperation of villagers that advanced the attempt into undeniable reality. Wild Orissa has trained the poachers as bird guides. The natives too are earning well through the old method of fishing, which doesn’t disturb the eco-system. To retain the seclusion of the place Wild Odisha has promulgated some rules-
* Eco-friendly transport like a sailboat is considered rather than motorboats, to avoid noise and oil spill from the motorboat.
*Cycle rickshaws are in use instead of motor vehicles to ferry tourist to the Mangaljodi embankment.
*Government is considering alternative livelihood options, particularly for the poachers-turned-conservation list.
Wild Odisha’s small step not only eliminated the poaching from the Mangaljodi it rekindled the avifauna of the land.