A nature lover, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been instrumental in protecting and improving the state’s biodiversity. That his efforts are yielding results is evident from the fact that the famous Chilika Lake has hosted a record number of migratory birds this winter. An internationally acclaimed wetland, which has been designated a Ramsar site, the lagoon has turned into a avian wonderland with 1,242,826 birds belonging to 190 species cavorting in its sapphire-blue waters. This marks a significant increase in their number compared to past few years. At least two rare birds – falcated teal and mallard – have also been sighted in the lake this time.
What is important is Patnaik’s personal interest in the improvement of Chilika as a water body that can nurture a variety of aquatic life and provide sustenance to birds coming from far-off countries. He has ensured that the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) makes special efforts to keep the lagoon in good health. Simultaneously, the government has carried out sustained drives to demolish illegal prawn enclosures (gherries) which have been the bane of Chilika. This has resulted in birds getting more space to enjoy themselves in this famous wetland.
Keenly aware of Chilika’s value as a tourist destination, the Chief Minister has also taken care to ensure that birds which draw lakhs of people to the shores of the lake every winter remain safe. Forest officials have been asked to step up patrolling in the water body to keep bird poachers at bay. Anti-poaching camps have also been set up and people in the periphery areas of the lake are being sensitized on the issue of poaching.
Wildlife officials have been fighting the menace of poaching for past several years but their efforts at checking it has been only partially successful. Carcasses of birds killed by poachers are seized every year by wildlife authorities who also make routine arrests. Poachers use all kinds of weapons, including guns and poison balls, to kill the winged beauties. Chilika bird meat is in high demand not only in the periphery of the lake but also in many other areas during the winter.
However, thanks to the stepped-up efforts of wildlife authorities, who have been galvanized by the Chief Minister’s resolve to turn Chilika into a world-class bird watching and tourist destination, poaching is now on the decline in the lake. Though sporadic cases are still being reported, big-time poachers have become inactive following intensified patrolling by the authorities. Simultaneously, efforts are being made to sensitize people and to reform even hard-core poachers, some of whom are now actively involved in saving the birds. Thanks to the Chief Minister, Chilika’s vibrancy as an ecosystem has been restored and Odias can take genuine pride in the natural beauty and bio-diversity of the lake.