The Flamingo yoga pose (the forward stretch of the torso while balancing on one leg) might have given you sore muscles, but tear away from the pain and you can enjoy watching the yoga pose’s inspiration flocking on Mumbai’s wetlands and creeks in their signature pose, feeding and mating. The pink beauties, that perch proudly on one limb while dozing, start arriving in the city from September from Kutch (Gujarat) and Rajasthan and stay on till May. They fly to mudflats and creeks, wherever they can find their staple diet — algae.
As the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed train corridor got wildlife clearance on February 5 from a committee chaired by Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan, to divert 3.27 hectares of land from the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary, it has created a ripple of fear among environmentalists and birders.
Mostly, because the Thane creek, 26 km in length may have never seen more flamingos congregate there than there are right now in the city. “The only objection we have raised for this (bullet train) is that there is no study done on the impact of drilling on the mudflat. This needs to be examined as currently, on one side, there is MTHL construction going in, on the other, there is Navi Mumbai airport work. Thus, the bulk of flamingos are using the Thane creek,” says Deepak Apte, director of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
The first comprehensive study on flamingos around Mumbai, published on February 2 by the BNHS, reported that a total of 1,21,900 flamingos (including both greater and lesser) inhabited Mumbai in January, while the numbers remained between 46,000 and 53,700 in October and December, respectively. The study is a part of the BNHS’s 10- year-long ecological study on flamingos and other waders at the eastern seafront of Mumbai (Sewri- Nhava seascape).
Thane creek, which is the chosen route for the upcoming bullet train corridor, is Asia’s largest haven for over 200 bird species, including migratory birds, rare Osprey and Greater Spotted Eagle, besides 13 types of crab. According to the data on “eBird” monitoring app, the Thane creek, one of the hotspots, has recorded 26 species of the birds, in February alone (157 species of birds have been spotted there over the last 10 years). The data from the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre (CMBC) states that local fishermen have noted a decline of 75 per cent in fish yields since the 1990s. Fishermen were forced to change gears, as the nets would get clogged with waste rather than fish.
Other than the 508.17 km bullet train corridor passing below the Thane creek, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has begun construction of 22km-long Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) at Sewri end, which will connect Mumbai to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT). One of the popular sites for bird watchers and for flamingos to congregate has been Sewri seashore. “You can see flamingos on the other side of the creek, near the Vashi and Airoli bridges. But this can be temporary and may be because of the construction. No one has an idea about the impact, and, thus, more studies and statistical modelling is required,” says Rahul Khot, principal investigator of the 10-year study project and assistant director, BNHS Count Method. However, the MMRDA has maintained that the project has no damaging impact on the Sewri mudflat ecology.
There are six categories around the world, of which, two greater and lesser flamingos fly to the city’s mudflats. Greater flamingos, taller, whiter, have a mixed feeding pattern: insects, small fish and algae. The lesser flamingos are smaller and pinker and only feed on algae. Almost 70 per cent of flamingos seen in the city are lesser flamingos. IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species, puts the lesser flamingos in the “near threatened” category while greater flamingos into “least concern”.
There are nine sites in Maharashtra shortlisted as flamingo zones. Four are around Mumbai: Sewri mudflats, Vashi creek, Airoli creek and Thane creek. The latter is the closest one can get to watching these migratory birds.
Started in February 2017, the mangrove cell of the state forest department has been operating two boats, a 24-seater and a seven-seater, from the CMCB in Airoli. The three-hour boat ride takes the visitors through the thick mangrove cover, towards Diva and Vashi. N Vasudevan, chief conservator, mangrove cell, says, the boat ride and the flamingo watching will not be affected by the infrastructure projects. “The implementing agency will be paying Rs 10 crore for the habitat improvement of Thane creek flamingo sanctuary, besides, five times of compensatory afforestation,” he said.
Navi Mumbai’s Yogesh Joshi, a novice birder, who recently went on a bird-watching trail and joined a flamingo census group, says, “The flamingos are winter neighbours in Sewri and their numbers seem to be increasing, especially in Thane creek. I pray the trend continues and my kids don’t end up seeing the species only in zoos or on TV shows owing to the development along the creeks.”
In a bid to understand the flamingo population in the country better, and, in the first coordinated all-India flamingo count, the BNHS has invited government institutions (the state mangrove cell, forest department, etc.), Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) members, birdwatchers and NGOs to participate in the two-phase mega-count event. The first two-day count concluded on February 24 (the results are yet to be released) while the rest will be conducted in April, just before the flamingos bid adieu and fly off to Kutch.
THE GREAT INDIAN BUSTED
On World Wildlife Day, avid bird watcher and cartoonist ROHAN CHAKRAVARTY, creator of the Green Humour nature comic strip, takes a bird’s-eye view of Ardeotis nigriceps (Great Indian Bustard). Estimated at fewer than 200, it is listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
This article originally appeared in print with the headline ‘One Ran Over the Flamingo’s Nest’