A rough puddled track leads you to a low-lying area where rainwater has collected on the outskirts of Vanod village of Dasada taluka in Surendranagar district, turning the water body locally called ‘Saran’, into a favourite haunt of migratory birds like Demoiselle cranes, flamingos and Greylag goose.
However, traces of blood mark the forested track to the Saran. Feathers, broken wings and entrails of dead birds and used cartridge shells point to rampant hunting going on in the area, which is not officially notified as protected.
Empty cartridge boxes with brand name ‘Shaktimaan’ are found near the water body along with some live bullets. Sources from the region who do not wish to be named, said the birds were shot dead by unknown people who have been thronging the place to have “exotic game meat” and add that it is emerging as a hot spot among such people for illegal poaching.
Vanod is close to the world famous Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch. Referring to the particular seasonal water body in the revenue area of the village, an environment enthusiast from Surendranagar said, “This water body is one of the hidden gems of Gujarat. It is (probably) the second largest water body in the state after Nal Sarovar and is a paradise for migratory birds like Greylag Geese, Demoiselle Cranes, Common Cranes, Flamingoes, Herons, etc. However, for some time, the place has been facing this illegal activity of people from different pockets poaching these birds to have exotic game meat.”
“Till two-three years ago, there was not enough rain to fill up the water body. This year, due to good rain, the water bodies around the region are completely filled. And it is proving to be an ideal place for migratory birds. However, this nuisance has started and if goes on unchecked, we are afraid that the spot will lose its migratory birds. Instead of shooting the birds with cameras, they are shooting them with guns,” the wildlife enthusiast warns on condition of anonymity.
Referring to the presence of cases of bullet cartridges suspected to be of .12 mm bore guns, near the water body, he says, “This clearly shows that people have fired from the guns here. And an average villager cannot afford to use such guns and bullets. So, it is certainly the work of people probably from urban pockets nearby.”
Deputy Conservator of Forest SS Asoda under whose jurisdiction the Vanod area falls, told The Indian Express, “So far, we have neither received any complaint nor do we have any such information in this regard. There are many spots in our region where migratory birds are coming in big numbers… If you have any such information, give us evidence like photographs, if you have it. We will investigate.”
Some villagers confirmed the presence of hunters. Afraid to describe or talk about them, the villager, who did not want to be named, said, “Yes, people do poaching here. I heard gun shots this morning only from that direction,” he says pointing toward the Saran.
A group of four local maldharis (herdsmen) who were resting as their cattle were grazing, said, “Many people come here in big cars, kill the birds and go.” However, they chose not to speak any further and said that they did not know from where the people were coming to poach the birds.
Sources from the region said that similar activities of poaching are clandestinely on in nearby places also, including Erwada, Detroj, Dasada and Malvan.