There is an old story of transformation. Too many stories have been told about transformation or change. All living things whether individual beings or population of orderly species are subject to change. This is quite a different story.
.It is inevitable that somebody should take the story to the whole world. Surprisingly, I should do that.
Killing birds were considered as an ancient ritual in Chillika as old as the lake. In the moonlit starlit winter nights under the veil of thin mist when the birds close their eyes a bit after fluffing out its down feathers, turning its head around and tucking its beak into back feathers .. the naked legs and beaks are tucked in to keep warm under the thick blanket of feathers.
Dark figures emerged gliding in canoes..with candles, lanterns and torches spreading eagle shadows across Mangalajodi. There goes the gunshot. The birds make sounds in panic, the crisis reverberates across the lake. There were more lanterns, more torches, more gunshots and more bird blood spills.
The nearby restaurants started taking the bird meat paying rupees twenty to sixty, considering the species and the quantity of flesh. The crookedness of the profit-oriented market tempted the hunters to amass more money selling bird meat.
The situation worsened as the poachers innovated a novel and easy way of killing more waterbirds using a pesticide brand named Furadan.In the dread of midnight, the poachers unbundled Furudan laced water lily pods the staple diet of wintering birds and lots of dead birds would be ready for meat markets the following morn.
The hunters earned rupees ten thousand to forty thousand annually. It was a massive massacre or genocide the rare birds being killed in monstrous numbers.
Thousands and thousands of The Tufted ducks, Red-crested pochards, Whistling ducks, Purple swamp hens, Asian openbills, Grey-headed lapwing s, Northern pintails, Black-tailed godwits, Northern shovelers, Eurasian Pigeons, Brahminy shelducks, Clamorous Reed Warblers, Eurasian marsh harriers, and White-bellied sea eagles very rare in the avian world used to land in the wintering ground of Mangalajodi.
Until 20 years ago, many never returned to their domestic Northern waters at the end of there winter migration. People made use of seasons meat by shooting them and setting traps.
They never returned home.Their world ended up in the kitchen pans around the wetland of Mangalajodi. The eggs of the bird slid their way down to people’s gullets.
Mangalajodi once acclaimed as the Paradise of the wintering birds ,cultivated the reputation as” the village of thieves”and” the village of poachers .” It was just a matter of time before the vast lake emptied of birds.
Thus the number of avian visitors fell abruptly. The census figure of the population of 1998-99 Mangalajodi was less than sixty six thousands.
”Manishada” the first verse upon this world, once again got under way to reverberate in the soil of India. The scene was shifted from Tamasha river of North India as referred in Ramayana to Mangalajodi wetlands Nandkishor of ” Wild Orissa” was the man who shouted ”Manishada ”again
agony ,originating from the plight of the birds was expressed.
Wild Orissa started to work under the leadership of Nandakishore Bhujabal who was the native of Mangalajodi village.
The swampy wetland of Mangalajodi is everywhere at the same,at the mouth of Chillika lake,at the current in the canals,in the reed groves,in the brackish wind,in the wintering birds. It is a feeling beyond perception .Every where it occurs in the present tense, teeming with millions and millions of organic cells.The many voiced song of bird calls echoed softly in his sense.
He imagined the floating carcasses of the dead feathered friends…the sound of the gunshots,the writhing in the snare ..
The first sloka of Sanskrit echoed on his mind….”Manishada” Oh hunter ,stop killing birds”
Wild Orissa, an NGO,under the leadership of Nandakishore Bhujabal held meetings throughout MangalaJodi village ,listening to the villagers ,discussing their sorrows and joys and forging friendship with them.He was being trusted and respected. He was canonized as a helpful patriarchal figure among the hard core hunters.
The NGO Wild Orissa felt that Mangala Jodi needed a behavioural change,a change of their attittude towards flora , fona and the whole wetland. They should feel to know the effect of their actions on the ecosystems around them.
Wild Orissa identified the main hunters and their mode of operation, the clients and economics and set in the long process of transformation.How to transform the seasonal poachers into a conservationist ??!!
That was a question with no answer.It was not an easy task.
”Tiger ,tiger burning bright in the forest of the night”How to transform Blakes Tiger into Blakes Lamb?
Bhujabal coaxed them and threatened them and exorted to them. He took them to Maa Kalijai Mandir. Many of the poachers pronounced hunting before Maa Kali , taking a n oath that they would never hunt. That was one of the strategies he used.They set in to leave the poaching, sacrificing their income of thousands of rupees they earned withoutr working hard.
Kishore Behera , a large scale poacher” the Veerappan of Mangal Jodi, gave up his arms and joined Samity .Kishore Behera, and his kin – Madhav, Madhusudan, Mahendra, Dibakar and others – have shed their past and they played their key roles in Chillika’s bird conservation.Several other poachers followed his path. The first victory came when ‘the dirty dozen’, a notorious gang of bird trappers, agreed to give up their old habits .
The poaching supply chain was broken gradually . A committee was formed in 1998 for protecting the birds in which 12 members were poachers who killed the birds under the leadership of Wild Orissa.
In 2000 ,Wild Orissa developed the committee and set up an organisation, The Sri Sri Mahavir Pakhshi Surakshya Samiti (SSMPSS) with the new converts from Mangalajodi.The committee was assisted by members Chillika development authority,The royal Bank of Scotland Foundation ,Indian Grameen services and Odisha state forest department They supported the unified attempt by providing land and funds.
We may sense the story absurd or incredible in this profit driven world. But it’s a true story.
The people of MangalaJodi did not become much more truthful and honest over night. The primordial hunting instinct runs wildly through these Mangalajodians as we do.
The history stretches far back to a time when the concept of time itself remained unmeasured and unknown. Historians have recorded the existence of societies that existed before the Dravidians that subsisted on hunting and gathering food.
The Kodas in South India, as well as the Baigas and Gonds of the Central Indian plains, are said to be the descendants of these early inhabitants of the subcontinent. Cave paintings found in the forests of Mudumalai (in Southern India) as well as in Bhimbhetka (in Central India) depict scenes from a hunt where men put down their quarry with primitive tools such as spears, bows and arrows.
They did did not change their essential nature overnight .Nevertheless ,a sea change was visible.. It was a change of their attitude.. the poachers underwent transformation.Wild Orissa was a powerful current of air that upset many things ,the most of all the working of the people’s minds.The workers seemed to emerge from the back drop of the fisherman community, speaking their language.
The prospects of a respectable rural lifestyle where they weren’t treated like thieves and poachers might have attracted them.They earned a legitimate income from ecotourism ,appealed to them. They loved their new way of life and they felt they are morally secure ..
Conversion of hunters into protectors ,we may feel it impossible really it is an impossible task.But Odisha is a land of transformation the blood filled Daya river transformed the truiphant emperor Ashoka ..
Ashoka inscribed his]edicts expressing his concern for the ”welfare of the whole world , is very close to Mangala Jodi.Many social groups and individuals have tried to transform evil doers but they couldn’t totally change their clients taking a U turn ,converting the the seasonal poachers into die hard bird conservationist.
Sri Sri Mahavir Pakhshi Surakshya Samiti (SSMPSS) started patroling wetland along its bunds and creeks especially at night.They have set up four guard camps to drive away poachers operating in the waters.the samity holds regular meetings of its members incorporating the members of forest officials.
The water fowls responded positively to these changes,descending from the october skies in flocks.Census takers counted nearly nine lakh birds on the lake.The more in number,the more in the amount of bird poop.The more they pooped the more enriched the water weeds grew..the luxuriant growth of water flora enriched the birds..In this way the ecological web was established.
The samity has started launching an eco tourism initiative..wild orissa imparted them training on ornithology and guide etiquettes.
We start our birding from the watchtower where canoes are available.Sri Sri Mahaveer Pakshi Surakshya Samiti(Bird protection committee) offers arrangements for this.We were move slowly in a country canoe along with the shallow watered canals bordered with reed clusters in Mangaljodi .The boat man pushes the wooden boat through the canal tearing the map of water lilies and hyacinths with great precision
‘’When did you set off your journey from Caspian??.’’.Have you had your breakfast ??!He feels that he is amidst the crowd of winged visitors .He takes them as his friends and family members. It is very surprising that he is very eco friendly, very polite in his manners that he would never locate a bird using his index finger or never utter a scaring note or an alarming note to draw our attention..he best spectacle attracted the bird watchers so tourism was an obvious toys the man already knew all a lot about water birds their habitats where it species like to hangouts they made excellent naturalist but many tourists comprehend Odiya..
”For us tourists and birds are like Gods ” the guide used to say..
There should be a sense of urgency at Mangalajodi about conserving this waterfowl-breeding habitat. Perhaps only a few such spots now exist in India making Mangalajodi priceless. Mangalajodi Ghera (an embanked area of 1.5 sq km), draws special attention from Wild Orissa and the bird protection committee as a crucial bird habitat. It retains water for most of the year, is protected from draining and boating and sees an explosion of waterfowl, resident and migratory.
Mangalajodi experiment is recognized by the Government of Orissa when the Hon’ble Chief Minister gives the Pakhshi Bandhu (Friends of Birds) Award to the Sri Mahavir Pakshi Surakshya Samiti of Mangalajodi during the course of the wildlife week celebrations.
Chillika developement Authority built a watch tower and visitors centre at Mangalajodi.
Mangalajodi wetlands are very sensitive.
Human traffic will butt in nest building, nesting and rearing for water birds. It is desirable the regulated and restrained use of wetlands for eco tourism. It would be better that breeding be cocooned from human interference.
Oil spills from motorboats, especially if eco-tourism takes off, might be a nightmare for birds and the aquatic life at large. An early movement towards eco-friendly transport like sail boats will avoid such dangers.
We suggest using cycle rickshaws like in Bharatpur, to ferry tourists along the Mangalajodi embankment.
The involvement of locals, more importantly the poachers-turned-conservationists, in bird conservation is an essentiality.
People like Kishore Behera should be included in eco-tourism projects to realize the goals of the wet land projects
Mangalajodi has not yet made it to the calendar of birders in India. It is not even on the Orissa Tourism map or even included in the Chilika Guide Map. But, thanks to the SSMPSS the birds are getting the protection they need and locals are getting the social support they need for livelihoods that revolve around bird protection. It is estimated that roughly 3000 visitors come to Mangalajodi each year and that the income they bring supports several families whose members are acting as guides and boatmen.
Eliots ”What the thunder said” echoes acrossthe wast wetlands of Mangalajodi upto the horizon.
DA means Datta to give..
DAYADHVAM means to sympathise..
DAMYATA means to be controlled.
The guide bowed touching the ground before him the birds reminded him of everything ,he had ever deeply loved in his life .The wintering water birds what had ever been valuable and Holy to him in his life ,other than Mangalajodi lake and it’s birds.. This is the story of transformation that the guide told.