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Kollukudipatti: The village that doesn’t burst crackers on Diwali so the birds stay

Painted storks are among the species that visit Vettangudi   | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

It’s a nippy evening in Sivagangai. Dark clouds hover over the horizon and a brisk breeze brings a steady drizzle to the ochre-red earth. Off the Madurai-Karaikudi highway, our car trundles on to a dirt track flanked by paddy fields, leading to the village of Kollukudipatti. Soon, an archway with birds drawn on it announces we have reached Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary, confirmed by the cacophony of bird call that rents the air.

Spread over 38.40 hectares, Vettangudi is said to be the oldest bird sanctuary in southern Tamil Nadu, and home to roughly 20 migrant varieties, ranging from the common storks, ibis, grebes, egrets, herons and cormorants to comparatively rarer ones such as the yellow wattle lapwing and lesser whistling duck.

So many birds might not have flocked here were it not for an unusual gesture on the part of the Kollukudipatti villagers.

Some three decades ago, the village decided to stop bursting firecrackers during Diwali. “We noticed chicks falling out of their nests disturbed by the loud sounds. We discussed it at panchayat meetings and imposed an informal rule forbidding firecrackers,” says P. Arumugam, former Panchayat president. At first, the youngsters rebelled. But soon, it became a self-imposed habit. “Today, not not a single person in the village bursts firecrackers,” says Arumugam.

Just like guests

And the ban is not just for Diwali. Even for weddings, temple festivals or funerals, firecrackers are a big no-no in Kollukudipatti. Most heartening is how even children follow the practice. “It’s the birds that have put our village on the tourism map. We feel proud when foreigners stop by on their way to Karaikudi. The birds are our guests and it’s our duty to help them raise their chicks safely,” says Santhosh, a Class IV student at Singampunari Panchayat Union Government Primary School.

The villagers take turns to stand at the entrance to the sanctuary to greet visitors and guide them. The day we visit, it’s the turn of the frail V. Mayavan, 88, who is wrapped in a shawl and standing under a lone banyan tree. Flashing a toothless smile, he asks where we are from, then explains about the sanctuary. “Please enjoy watching the birds without disturbing them. The chicks are still small,” he says, before we climb the watch tower on the bund. “In the absence of the forest guards or wardens, we make sure no intruder reaches the birds,” he says.

Safe haven

With three big rain-fed tanks and centrally located on the migratory route of birds, Vettangudi is a sought-after nesting point. “The pocket attracts a wide variety of waders and water birds from September to February,” says Manivannan, doctor-turned-birder, who lives in Karaikudi.

Now, the birds return to the safe haven of Vettangudi year after year. “During the annual census five years ago, we counted almost 25,000 birds,” says Manivannan. This year, the numbers were considerably lower but the poor rainfall might have something to do with that, villagers say. “Rain has played truant this year, but with the arrival of the birds, we hope to get some good showers in the coming months. In September, we had huge flocks, but quite a few of them left within a week,” says Mayavan.

All’s not well yet. A monkey menace has recently begun, with some 30 of them taking up residence in the village. “When the waters in the tank recede, they cross over and climb up the trees in the middle and feed on the eggs,” says Arumugam. “The monkeys should be translocated.”

Realising how much the villagers have contributed to conservation work, the Forest Department distributes sweets during Diwali, besides fruit trees, tree guards and RO plants. An eco-tourism project is also on the anvil. “We plan to train villagers as eco-guides to ensure local participation and generate income for them,” says Nihar Ranjan, Conservator of Forests, Virudhunagar Circle.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 3:17:03 PM |

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