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Updated: January 31, 2014 17:56 IST

All set for take-off?

NAHLA NAINAR
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Open Billed Stork, in Karaivetti Bird Sanctuary, in Ariyalur district. Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam
The Hindu Open Billed Stork, in Karaivetti Bird Sanctuary, in Ariyalur district. Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam

Karaivetti Bird Sanctuary stands to benefit from the added attention of the authorities

The Karaivetti Bird Sanctuary, a 450 hectare (approximately 1,200 acres) verdant premises built around the Vettakudi irrigation tank in Ariyalur district, is just the right place to meet some of nature’s frequent flyers.

The sanctuary, around 60km from Tiruchi, is open throughout the year and doesn’t charge for entry. For ornithology enthusiasts, the tank, one of 39,000 in the state, is a haven for nearly 188 species of birds that can be spotted here from November to May.

And now with ‘eco-tourism’ being the byword for most travellers, Karaivetti stands to benefit from the added attention of the authorities.

A grant of Rs. 30 lakhs has already been sanctioned by the government for an ‘interpretation hall’ in the sanctuary. A further proposal worth Rs. 1 crore is being floated via the Collectorate to give it an overall facelift. “The hall will be helpful in explaining about the different birds that visit the sanctuary,” says Ariyalur District Forest Officer (D.F.O.) Nainar Mohamed. “We are in the process of finalising the tender and hope to start construction by this month.”

Also in the pipeline is a plan to build a walkway above the sluice gate that at present stops visitors from venturing into the sanctuary without a hefty four-wheel drive vehicle.

Tank to sanctuary

Vettakudi tank gets its water from Mettur via the Pullambadi canal, and was built in 1957. The sanctuary has been named Karaivetti in order to avoid confusion with a similar sounding Vettakudipatti in Sivagangai district.

Past Lalgudi, the sanctuary can be accessed through three entry points, though the potholed roads can prove to be real speed ‘breakers’. In the absence of forest vegetation, the thousands of babool (Vachellia nilotica) trees around the tank serve as breeding grounds for the winged visitors.

“In 1994, Vetakkudi tank’s babool trees hosted nearly 25,000 nests,” says S. Damodaran, founder of the Tiruchi-based sanitation non-governmental organisation Gramalaya, and a keen birdwatcher.

One of the key persons in having the tank declared a sanctuary (a process that took nearly 10 years) in 1995, Damodaran has many tales to share about Karaivetti’s inception.

Before the rules were tightened, he says, spear-hunting fledglings by the sack was a common practice locally, as was fishing in the tank. Now both have been banned, and a team of forest department staff is posted here for round-the-clock vigilance, and to serve as guides.

Winged visitors …

The tank’s huge size (the circumference alone is 4km long), means that the birds can be seen only at a long range, unlike in sanctuaries like Vedanthangal.

But that should not deter keen birders who can see, among others, the black-tailed godwit, bar-headed goose, white ibis, glossy ibis, open-billed stork, painted stork, common sandpiper and teal here.

“Around one lakh teals visit the tank in a year,” says Damodaran.

“Among glossy ibis birds alone, 50,000 fly over to Vettakudi and around a thousand spoonbills can be seen here,” says a sanctuary official.

The bar-headed goose, one of the 58 migratory species that visit the tank, has been spotted in increasing numbers over the years.

Poaching and hunting have been banned here for over 20 years, for which support from the surrounding villages has been crucial.

“We have earmarked eight ‘eco-villages’ to back us in maintaining the sanctuary, by giving them financial assistance and employment opportunities,” says Ariyalur D.F.O. Nainar Mohamed. “They help us to preserve the sanctuary’s natural conditions.”

… and the others

Despite having the barest of amenities, the sanctuary attracts around 15,000 visitors annually, mostly due to word of mouth.

Two artificial mounds have been built in the central region of the tank, and two pairs of binoculars are available (free) for those who’d like a closer look at what the birds are up to in the water.

Local participation and sensitising visitors about the importance of birds in our ecology should be an integral part of promoting eco-tourism in the area, feels Dr. A. Relton, of Bishop Heber College, whose student-driven Nature Club has detailed the number and species of birds at Karaivetti in the recent past.

“Perhaps the revenue generated from the sanctuary could be used to deepen the tank and thus ensure that it doesn’t dry up in the summer months,” he adds.

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