Greylag Geese and a conservation story for the new year

As we count down to the end of the noughties (which in so many ways have been quite dismal for biodiversity on our planet), it is nice to find some rays of hope, some silver linings, so we can look forward to the next year and the coming decade not entirely bereft of optimism. I am glad, therefore, to share with you, this guest post from Sumit K. Sen who offers just such a story of reconciliation ecology in action in one of the poorest regions of India:

Greylag Geese and a conservation story for the new year
The new year is always a time for good cheer and hope. It has been some time since I have found anything to cheer about in terms of conservation success as far as birds are concerned. All I have seen and read are about the struggle of selfless individuals against the forces of destructive development. But for me the best stories are the ones that are spontaneous – those that come from enlightenment and not mere education. To witness such spontaneous acts of conservation has been a life-enriching experience for me – and I have found some true conservationists in places like faraway Mizoram, and closer home at Santragachi and Rajhat.

Last Saturday, Bhaskar Das and I ventured on a 250 km drive from Kolkata to a small unheralded village in Birbhum District of rural West Bengal – to the agricultural settlement of Parulia. Parulia is an impoverished village living on the brink of existence. Its inhabitants, like most people of the district are a mix of tribals and other locals. All meat-eaters, and many partly hunter-gatherers. Little is known about Parulia except that it came into prominence in early 2008 because of the spread of bird flu in the district. There were talks of cull of migratory ducks and tales of local resistance – one villager being quoted as saying: ” The birds come here every winter. We love them.”  That was about all that was known about Parulia as a place for birds or about its conservation success.

The existence of Parulia and its association with birds would have passed into obscurity for us had it not been for Mr. Anup Kr. Dey. Mr. Dey is a bird lover and his passion for birds and birding was fueled by the internet and the presence of websites such as ‘Birds of India’ and forums like ‘Bird Photo India’ and ‘Bengalbird’. In these he found cyber companions to encourage and support his lonely  pursuit of birds of Birbhum District – and I was lucky that he chose to share his pent up passion with me over mail/phone. Being a District Engineer, Mr. Dey knows every nook and corner of his district, and it was his description of Parulia that urged our 4.30 am departure on a cold and foggy morning.

We reached Parulia by 9.30am, guided by Mr. Dey from Suri onwards. An agricultural landscape dotted with small ponds took us to a square irrigation tank 170 meters across. In it were about 400 Greylags – some  feeding,  others resting while the rest of the village went about their business ~ with some even washing utensils while the geese swam past. It was an unbelievable sight to us from eastern India – a sight which is proof that conservation is way beyond some forest guards doing their duty or some highly educated people making their passion and presence felt. This is grassroot conservation from the heart and I wish that there are many more like these.

I could not think of ending 2009 with a better story. Here is hoping that there will be more like this in 2010.

-End-

1. Parulia is here: http://bit.ly/Parulia . It is 3kms north-east of Santhia town.
2. Greylag Geese: Greylag Geese are winter visitors to India from eastern Europe and Asia from the Urals eastwards. Asad Rahmani & Zafar-ul-Islam in Ducks, Geese and Swans of India (BNHS 2008) estimate that about 15,000 winter in India. 1% population (150 in this case) in a single area is considered significant for conservation. This is the biggest known single site for this species in West Bengal at present times.


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