Quarrying destroys Laggar Falcon habitat in Madurai

MADURAI: Indiscriminate sand quarrying on the Vaigai river bed, and granite quarrying in many parts of Madurai, have spelt disaster for many raptor species and today, only two Laggar Falcons survive on the rock cliffs of Arittapatti near Melur in the district.

They are probably the only birds spotted in the entire south Indian region in the last two years. There is no record of spotting Laggar Falcons on eBird, a US-based web page for birders. The species nest only on rock cliffs unreachable to humans.

“They have fallen victim to granite sand quarrying in the last two decades,” says ornithologist N. Raveendran, Founder-Secretary of the Madurai Nature Forum.

Paradise lost

Laggar Falcons are an indigenous raptor species with white and grey plumage, which can hunt and fly at speeds of up to 180 kmph. “We have been eagerly waiting for the birds to breed for the last two years,” Mr. Raveendran said.

A few Peregrine Falcons, also a resident species and one of the fastest at flying, also reside in this area.

Arittapatti, situated between Alagarmalai and Perumal Malai reserve forests, is a historic site with 2,000-year-old Jain rock beds and inscriptions. Madurai was once a paradise for 17 species of raptors, which could feed on the then plentifully available reptiles.

“Birds are the greatest indicators of climate change, and of loss of habitat and biodiversity. Due to sand quarrying, Madurai lost its Vaigai-based biodiversity, including hundreds of Brahminy Kites, Black Kites and native fishes,” the birder said.

Loss of habitat rather than use of pesticides

The records with Badri Narayanan, a Madurai-based ophthalmologist and President of the Nature Forum, talk about the numerous raptors that were found even in the city of Madurai 30 years ago. “Stone quarrying in Keezhavazhavu and Melavazhavu destroyed the habitat and nesting spots of raptors and other birds, including eagles, falcons and owls. Felling of palm trees, which is a nesting spot of many raptor species, is also one of the reasons for the disappearance of the birds,” Mr. Raveendran said.

Asked whether pesticides had caused the decline of the birds, Mr. Raveendran said it could not be the reason as pesticides have been in use for many years and the birds had survived. “Large scale sand and granite quarrying began in the 1990s and the use of explosives contributed to the decline of the birds,” he explained.

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