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Metal trees make a home for pelicans

                                                                                                                 The Hindu, New Delhi, 15th March, 2015


 At the Kolleru Lake Bird Sanctuary, poles make up for a dearth of wetland vegetation


At Kolleru Lake in Andhra Pradesh, Pelicans sit atop tall poles, which they seem to ‘own’.


These metal poles, crested by circular perches, have been erected to make up for a striking dearth of trees. To the delight of the forest officials, these birds have taken to these poles, where they nest and nurture their young.


Kolleru Lake sprawls over 245 sq. km., covering parts of Krishna and West Godavari districts, and is reported to host 20 million birds during winter. Of all these birds, the pelicans, some resident and the others local-migrant, have made the most of the 160 metal poles.


According to K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan, founder of The Nature Trust, Painted Storks also utilise these poles, but not as much as the pelicans.


The poles seem to be a common symbol for two twin activities: enhancing the sanctuary’s attractiveness for birds and for tourists.


Great plans are afoot to develop the Kolleru Lake Bird Sanctuary as a tourist attraction. Boats routinely carry tourists, steering them past these squawking poles.


P. Gracious, who continues to be employed by the forest department even after his retirement from it, says the first powerful move towards building up this bird sanctuary came in 2006, when the numerous fish ponds that characterised the lake were destroyed. It was an all-out war against aquaculture and in about a year the lake was freed from it.


Before long, led by A.V. Joseph, who is now the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Government of Andhra Pradesh, the ‘artificial perch project’ was launched. On a trial basis, four poles were first erected on the bunds for the birds. The exercise was inspired by a successful experiment at Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary, around 60 km away.


In Uppalapadu, every pole has multiple sets of arms holding multiple perches. “It looked crowded and it was a decided a single perch would be better,” recalls Gracious. “For a year, the four poles remained untouched. Then, we noticed the pelicans using them as a perch, which served only half the purpose. We wanted the birds to bring twigs and other building material and start nesting. One day, one of the poles fell and we noticed eggs on the fallen perch. That signalled the success of the project. More poles were erected. Now, the pelicans are so accustomed to the sight of the poles that a day after we set up a pole, it is occupied,” he says.


It’s interesting how the poles were set up. When the fish ponds were destroyed, the bunds that lined them had to be removed entirely.


Following the usual practice, the bunds were cleared to create one contiguous water body, but a part of the debris was used to create short bunds where the poles could be erected. These bunds also made up islets, where saplings were planted. “Barringtonia and babul trees were planted. There has not been much success with the barringtonias. The babuls are doing well,” says Gracious.


And, they are planting metal trees instead of barringtonias.