As if to render our work easy, an errant cloud bursts just as we turn off NH 45B into a mud road, leaving the earth smelling of fresh mud and the area filled with the calls of dancing peacocks. Incidentally, we are on our way to Mayura Thottam, a peacock farm, just a few km off Ottapidaram. A banana plantation and a sudden spurt of tree cover later we're there.
Just before we turn into the canopy of sapota (chickoo) trees, we meet P.J. Thomas, who runs Mayura Thottam with his father P.V. Joseph Tharakan.
He asks us to drive on and promises to be back in a few minutes. At the entrance of the sapota farm, we just about spot the tail of a peacock that disappears quickly, and drive on. As we reach Thomas' home, his mother welcomes us, asking if we already spotted any birds. “One,” we say proudly, and she is amused, “Just one?”
Joseph Tharakan moved to this farm from a small town off Alleppey, Kerala in 1980. “We're agriculturists and we found a farm here and decided to move. The farm was initially called Parayil Gardens, and there weren't many peacocks then. They were mostly in the neighbouring areas,” says Thomas.
“It's only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when people began chopping plants around the entire stretch that the birds moved here. In the late 1990s, there was a drought and a lot of farmers moved to other places. These are beautiful birds and so we didn't mind them staying on.”
About 22 km from Tuticorin, this 54-acre farm boasts of a population of 350 to 400 peacocks during the peak season, among other birds (eagles, especially), who make it their home. “We have about 1,500 coconut trees, 1,000 guava trees and 50 mango trees apart from sapota trees. These peacocks eat anything from guava fruits to insects to small snakes. You'll find them strutting about a lot during the rainy season. During summer, they're usually on top of trees and very hard to spot,” he says, and just then, we find a peacock walking up the mud road away from us.
While Tharakan and his family have gotten used to the birds, neighbours find them a nuisance, it is said.
“We don't have a problem with the peacocks in our farm, but sometimes, they jump over to the farms nearby and destroy the crop, angering the farmers. But the birds are quite friendly,” he adds, while a farm help explains how one of the peacocks eats out of his hand every day.
As many as eight people work at this farm, and contrary to Thomas' opinion, we find the peacocks running away every time we are in the vicinity. “Ever since Tuticorin became a port city, poaching has been a problem,” sighs Thomas.
“Sometimes people come here with a pack of dogs to hunt down the birds for meat. We're trying to stop the menace, but it's proving to be difficult. That's why the peacocks are always jittery and run away when they see a group of people.”