FOR THE first time in many years, the Chhaya Rann, a wetland in the middle of Porbandar town which plays host to thousands of lesser flamingos, has gone almost dry, forcing the pink birds to seek refuse elsewhere.
Spread over around two square kilometres, Chhaya Rann attracts around 20,000 lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) every winter. These birds which have been classified as near threatened species by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) start landing at this urban wetland from September onward and roost till July. They leave for other wetlands as water levels rise in Chhaya Rann due to rain.
But these days, hardly 4,000 lesser flamingos are spotted in Chhaya Rann. “Almost three-fourth of the wetland has dried. Instead of the usual 20,000 lesser flamingos, only 2,000 to 4,000 birds are roosting now,” says Bharat Rughani, president of Bird Conservation Society, Porbandar, an informal group of bird-watchers in that town.
Hardly 500 metre away is Porbandar Bird Sanctuary. But water in that protected area is average six-foot deep and therefore not ideal for waders like lesser flamingos.
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Forest officers agree the problem is severe. “Monsoon rain was highly deficient last year. Therefore water has dried up in Chhaya Rann. The problem is also severe because we are going through the extreme dry season. For lack of water there, flamingos have migrated in the inter-tidal zone of Karli,” says assistant conservator of forests, Dipak Pandya.
Porbandar receives average 27 inches of rain every year. But in 2015, it received only half of that. Chhaya Rann is fed by runoff water from Porbandar and sewerage of the town. But Porbandar and adjoining Chhaya are also reeling under a drinking water crisis.
“Lesser flamingos started roosting here since 1964. But the Rann has not dried up to this extent in decades,” says Rughani. Local bird-watchers say Saurashtra Chemical dumped its bauxite waste in Chhaya Rann a few decades ago.
The salt-content in the waste led to growth of algae in the wetland and, in turn, started attracting lesser flamingos which feed on shrimps and other crustaceans etc. Dhaval Varagiya, president of Mokarsagar Wetland Conservation Committee, says the birds have flocked elsewhere. “Chhaya Rann is not a protected wetland and therefore conservation regime is not that rigorous. But lesser flamingos depend on a series of wetlands. These birds, we believe are local migratory birds. Thousands have shifted to salt-pans near Javar village, Kurli area etc,” says Varagiya.