Sharath S. Srivatsa
MYSORE: A conservation pen for pelican chicks, Hejjarle Balaga, takes care of chicks that fall from their nests at Kokkare Bellur village in Mandya district, near here. The pen is an enclosure surrounded by a mesh to protect young chicks from stray dogs.
Functioning with the assistance of local villagers and bird-watchers, the conservation pen has helped arrest the drastic decline in the breeding numbers of Grey or Spot-billed Pelicans in the region. The hands-on method followed in raising the less-than-two-month-old chicks has a success rate of over 80 per cent. If left unattended, the chicks that fall to the ground perish.
At Hejjarle Balaga, these chicks are often taken care of for nearly six months before they take to their wings to join the flock in the wild. On an average, nearly 25 pelican chicks are rescued during the breeding season and nurtured.
A large number of Grey or Spot-billed Pelicans (Pelecanus philippensis) and Painted Storks (Mycteria leucocephala) arrive at Kokkare Bellur Pelicanry, located on the banks of the Shimsha river, beginning December for breeding. These pelicans, sometimes numbering over a thousand, occupy nearly 200 trees around the village.
The Kokkare Bellur Pelicanry has been declared as one of the 465 bird sites in the country by the Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) and is reckoned to be a model site as conservation work is already under way. In addition to Spot-billed Pelicans and Painted Storks, bird-watchers have identified 141 other species of birds in the village.
According to K. Manu of Mysore Amateur Naturalists (MAN), these pelican chicks are fed fish. There is a pond inside the enclosure to allow the natural instincts of the birds to develop. "We protect the birds for around six months, but some birds may require longer care," he says.
A majority of the chicks that fall from nests have ruptured lungs or fractures, and they have to be nursed back to health. The rescued birds are ringed with colour bands before they fly off to join the flock. The 15 volunteers of Hejjarle Balaga, mostly drawn from among the villagers themselves, keep an eye on the chicks.