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A feather in his cap

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BIRD MAN Pal Pandian points to birds at Koonthakulam at an exhibition of nature photographs organised by Greens
BIRD MAN Pal Pandian points to birds at Koonthakulam at an exhibition of nature photographs organised by Greens

Pal Pandian explains to RAJEEV G.R. how Koonthakulam was turned into a haven for birds

Even in the early 1990s, anyone killing birds or stealing eggs at Koonthakulam had their heads tonsured and was ostracised for the transgression. Others may call it crude, but for the villagers, it is their love for the birds that had made them resort to such methods. After the Tamil Nadu Forest Department made the village, about 150 km from Thiruvananthapuram city, on the Nagarcoil-Tirunelveli road, a bird sanctuary, such practises have ended.

Love for birds

Showering love on the birds, which come from foreign shores and various parts of the country, is a tradition at Koonthakulam.Leading the villagers in this endeavour is Pal Pandian, now a birdwatcher with the Forest Department in the sanctuary. Pandian was in the city this week to inaugurate World Environment Day celebrations of Greens (Group Endeavour for Environment and Nature Sustenance), an environmental organisation of Secretariat employees. Fame sits lightly on this unassuming man, whose eyes glint when speaking about the feathered creatures. Back home, he has asked his wife to take care of the birds in his absence.Nurturing the birds is a fulltime passion for him. To enable this, he left a steady job in Mumbai and sold his wife's ornaments. "The birds are like children to us," he says. The village stands in sharp relief against nesting grounds abandoned by the birds owing to pollution and encroachment of wetlands. If the birds find Koonthakulam hospitable, the credit goes to the villagers, for whom protecting weaker species is a divine call. Even the village temple abjures firecrackers and loudspeakers so that the birds are undisturbed.When fledglings fall in their first flights, Pandian and other villagers rush to them and nurse them till wings flutter again. Birdwatchers have been flocking to this idyllic village, and Pandian has been kindling their interest with his chemistry with the birds. Even flamingos from the Rann of Kutch had been spotted here, which is unusual, he says.Pelicans, storks, ibises, cormorants and egrets warm the hearts of bird lovers at Koonthakulam. Ground nesting birds such as lapwings and plovers are also seen. Migratory birds flock to the sanctuary from November to April.Pandian lavishes praise on wildlife photographers and birdwatchers from Kerala for helping this sanctuary gain attention worldwide.

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