Andhra Pradesh

Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary: the vanishing habitat

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The boundaries of Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary declared in 1999 remain on paper, not visible on the ground as aqua ponds thrive on the habitat of the above 220 avian guests

Except the avian guests, no other fraternity, including the forest authorities, could trace the exact boundary of the Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) spread over Krishna and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh.

Geographically, the shape of the sanctuary’s 308.55 sq km wetland has been disturbed and ruined by diverting much of its area for commercial activities that create anthropogenic pressures altering the ecological character of Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

In October 1999, the Andhra Pradesh government’s Gazette declared the 308.55 sq km (30,855.20 Ha) wetland as "Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary", on a condition that no person shall dig any tank for aquaculture or for any other purposes in it. The sanctuary was earmarked up to +5 contour from the Kolleru Lake’s +10 contour.

Safe habitat

The Ramsar Site serves as a safe habitat for above 220 avian species including nearly 100 species that migrate from the Palearctic region. It is a paradise for the near-threatened Spot-Billed Pelican or Grey Pelican in Asia.

Post Operation Kolleru, the rigorous attempt by the Wildlife authorities to erect the boundaries of the sanctuary was badly defeated by a handful of groups that aimed at reoccupying the wetland for commercial purposes.

The 2006 operation destroyed 1,776 aqua ponds below the +5 contour. Now, an equivalent number of ponds have emerged within the sanctuary, erasing its boundaries to eat up the most fragile ecosystem.

Over the years, the State government’s proposal to downsize the sanctuary from +5 to +3 contour triggered speeding up the encroachment of the sanctuary. The Hindu had learned from a highly placed source that an officer deputed in the sanctuary had sought a license to use arms to protect himself from encroachers.

The incident (December 2015) justifies such request by the said officer; Hundreds of locals with machinery led by then Denduluru MLA Chintamaneni Prabhakar laid one-km road at the Atapaka bird nesting ground (+5 contour) within three hours on the midnight, making a way to transport fish from the illegal ponds in the sanctuary.

Many experts, one voice

P.A. Azeez Committee (2011) and Prof. Raman Sukumaran Working Group (2017) recommended a common task — of fixing up the boundary of the sanctuary before proceeding with any decision on the lake.

The governments in power in the State have left the impression that at any point in time the sanctuary would be downsized, directly encouraging the local communities to destroy the wetland.

SACON Director P.A. Azeez clearly observed in 2011; "Reduction of the KWS is not a viable solution for the socio-economic or ecological issues confronting the Kolleru Lake." Such scientific investigations were sidelined, making a way to downsize the heaven of the winged guests.

A retired forest official, P. Gracious, an authority on Kolleru Lake, told The Hindu: "A misconception, that the forest staff bothers about the birds, not the human beings surviving in the lake, is still alive in the minds of the local communities. All the stakeholders are to be blamed for failing to establish that the presence of birds means everything is in the order in the lake’s ecosystem."

He warned that absence or decline in the number of winged guests should be considered as a symbol that the survival of the wetland was in question.

The lone shelter

In Kolleru Lake, Atapaka and surrounding patches witness the migratory birds. The Atapaka breeding ground witnesses nearly 10,000 migratory birds, mostly Pelicans, Painted Stork and Whistling Teels in the winter. Only a single pair of White Pelicans could be sighted at Atapaka in the winter.

At a time when anthropogenic pressures are altering the ecological character of the wetland as P.A. Azeez observed, the Wildlife Management authorities have recently launched an exercise of identifying the boundaries of the sanctuary, assessing the threats of Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 1:12:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/the-vanishing-habitat/article30126219.ece

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