Species-specific recovery programme needed in Kanyakumari

The population of four bird species — Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Weaver bird and Bee-eater — is dwindling in Kanyakumari district due to threat to their habitat and reduction in food supply.

While the State government and district administration have stepped in to protect birds in general in the district — which is blessed with innumerable water bodies and a vast tracks of wetlands — forest department sources said it did not have any species-specific recovery programme.

The State government has announced the formation of the Suchindram and Theroor Birds Reserve, and has started fencing the Suchindram lake, one of the biggest water bodies in the district, and erected a watch tower.

Kanyakumari District Forest Officer T. Ritto Cyriac said an allocation of Rs. 1.6 crore has been made for the new bird reserve. The efforts include creation of an interpretation centre and appointment of protection watchers.

“With the appointment of watchers, the incidents of poaching will come down,” he said.

But the four birds under threat are facing peculiar problems and extra care is required to replenish their numbers, feel environmentalists.

“Human interference and not poaching is posing a challenge to the jacanas’ existence. The district supplies lotus flowers and leaves to other places and regular plucking destroys nests of jacanas. Cattle feeding on water plants is also equally disastrous for the birds,” said S.S. Davidson, Environmental Consultant for Tribal Foundation, a group of environmental educators and Kani tribal people.

Jacana, known as mayil kaal kozhi (as it effortlessly walks on water plants), is a polyandrous species and builds floating nests on water. A female will mate with as many as four males and lay clutches of eggs for each one and leave it to the males to rear the chicks. A slight disturbance can prove fatal for the eggs and chicks in the nest.

Mr. Davidson attributed the reduction in the number of Bee-eaters to indiscriminate use of insecticides and pesticides. The birds perch on electric lines (thus earning the name kambi kuruvi) and frequently stoop to catch bees and dragonflies. “Heavy use of chemicals destroys the insects. Moreover, conversion of wetlands for housing purposes has also cut the food supply,” he said.

R.J. Ranjit Daniels of CareEarth, a Chennai-based biodiversity research organisation, said the decline in weaver bird population was noticed in the last 10 to 20 years. In his observation, lack of appropriate nesting sites is a major reason.

“These days palm trees are scarce around the wetlands, where these birds normally build their nests. And many wetlands are now covered by Prosopis, an invasive fire hardy species,” he said.

Mr. Daniels said extensive use of pesticides and widespread presence of electric lights during night hours led to non-availability of insects, which happens to be the staple diet needed for raising chicks.