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Waiting for the birds of good fortune

G.V. RAMANA RAO

Two copper plates from the Pallava period trace the history of the Kolleru Lake to the 1200s.



MEANS OF LIVELIHOOD: On the Kolleru Lake PHOTO: CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

The British officials were fascinated by the way the local people adopted different methods to protect colonies of pelicans.

The villagers fed the birds and considered them to be the harbingers of good fortune. It used to be a panoramic sight when pelicans arrived in large numbers and nested in the waters of the Kolleru lake. These birds of good fortune virtually disappeared from the lake and were not to be seen for the last two decades.

Gordon Mackenzie, who was the Collector of Krishna district, compiled "The Manual of the Kistna District in the Presidency of Madras" in 1883.

The manual is still considered an authentic record of the history of modern-day Krishna and Guntur districts. Mackenzie found that colonies of pelicans were fostered in several villages in the Krishna district.

Thousands of Grey Pelicans (Pelecanus philippensis) nested in Kolleru Lake. After the advent of aquaculture, the fragile ecology of the lake was destroyed and, consequently, the habitat of the birds was also disturbed.

Unique lake

The Kolleru lake is considered one of the three major freshwater bodies in the country. It is compared with the Dal lake of Kashmir and the Loktak lake of Manipur. The flora and fauna of the Kolleru lake are unique.

A wide range of flora and fauna exists in the wetlands between contour lines 3 and 10. Contours are lines drawn on a map, joining points of equal height above the sea level. In the past, the water level in the lake was between contour 7 and 10 during the monsoon, and it fell to contour 3 during the dry season. The area within contour 3 is 135 square kilometres and the area within contour 10 is 901 square kilometres. These conditions do not prevail any more with fish tanks and roads occupying most of the lake. Mackenzie described the lake as a "curious depression between the alluvial deposits of Krishna and Godavari Rivers."

Though the pelicans left the lake for good, the people of Kolleti Kota Island (heart of the lake) turned to storks, cranes and other seasonal arboreal visitors for finding good luck. Kolleti Kota occupies a prominent place in the annals of Kolleru history.

Two copper plates of the Pallava period found in the lake traces its history to Langulya Gajapathi Raju of Orissa from 1237 to 1282. According to legend, the Gajapathi fort was located at Kolleti Kota on one of the eastern islands of the lake. The enemy camped at Chigurukota located on the shores. In some ways, the lake protected the Odissi garrison. The enemy finally excavated a channel, the modern-day Upputeru, so that the water of the lake would empty into the sea and the level would fall so that they could attack the Gajapathi fort. The enemy army general sacrificed his own daughter to propitiate Gods and ensure his success. Therefore the channel was called Perantala Kanama.

Base for birds

Officers of the Wildlife division of the Forest Department recorded 173 species of migratory and residential birds.

Several species of jacanas, storks, herons, ducks, teals, darters, cormorants, terns, pigeons, doves, swifts, kingfishers, bee-eaters, drongos, cuckoos, parakeets, shrikes, swallows, owls, bitterns and sparrows are on the list of birds that inhabit the lake.

The birds gradually stopped arriving with destruction of their habitat. The list of 173 birds has many rare and endangered spices. The Large Whistling Teal is listed in schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection Act) 1972.

Recently, Kolleru lake area has been declared a sanctuary and orders have been issued to the district collectors to stop aquaculture. Revenue officials used explosives to breach the bunds of huge aquaculture tanks that were inaccessible to bulldozers and excavators.

The aquaculture boom brought riches to the people living in Kolleru. The ban has denied them of a livelihood. Maybe it is time for the pelicans to return and bring good fortune to the people again.

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