“Conservation is not merely a question of morality, but a question of our own survival” – His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama.

When we talk about the conservation of nature, it indicates reaching a state of harmony where no resources are exploited. Every living and non-living element on the Earth survives in co-operation without intruding into each other’s space. Since the last few decades, with the advent of industrialisation, population boom and urbanisation, the world has witnessed a drastic shift. Human intelligence is being invested to make life easier with technology, without paying heed to the planet. The continuous degradation and depletion of air, minerals, soil, water besides the extinction of wildlife and plant species not only impact the quality of life but also adversely affects biodiversity and the ecosystem. Deforestation, illegal mining, poaching and pollution have thrived throughout these years because of ignorant people and governments, which keep nature conservation lowest on their priority scale.

World Nature Conservation Day, observed on July 28, aims to educate and inform people about the importance of conserving natural resources and a sustainable lifestyle. One doesn’t need to do something extraordinary, even a simple step of waste segregation is a step towards eco-friendly life. Polluted air, water quality and decreasing greenery often become a part of drawing-room discussions, which result in nothing. It’s high time we stop believing that someone else will get everything fixed for us. 

People of Mangalajodi, a small village situated on the northern banks of Chilika Lake, realised the importance of biodiversity and its conservation not long time back. Chilika Lake, the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in the Indian subcontinent, gets avian visitors from Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia. Seasoned poachers of Managalajodi, who once used to kill migratory waterfowls and birds for a few bucks, have now turned conservationists. While only 5000 migratory birds used to descend upon the marshes of Mangalajodi in 2002, the numbers have now surged to over 2 lakh.

How was it made possible? The credit goes to Wild Orissa’s Nandakishore Bhujabal, a former wildlife warden, who in 1997, embarked on a journey to bring behavioural changes in people of Mangalajodi, the village infamous for poaching. “Even a child could hunt down birds. Late in the evening we would take a boat in the middle of the marshy wetland, hunt a bird or two, roast it and eat it with local liquor,” 47-year-old Shiba Behera recalls as quoted by 101Reporters.

Poachers threatened forest officials and a few policemen who were deployed in the area. Selling a bird would fetch Rs 15 or even more, which is higher than what they would get after toiling hard in the fields for hours.

However, this wasn’t sustainable. Bhujabal met the villagers and forged a friendship with them. Soon he earned the trust and respect of Managalajodi’s residents. “Bhujabal sir told us that hunting would fetch us money for a few years, but if we conserve this area and turn it into a birds’ paradise, we would make money every year,” said Shiba.

 

In 2002, 12 of the dreaded hunters took a vow in the name of Maa Kalijai (the village deity) to give up poaching. They became a member of Sri Sri Mahavir Pakshi Surakhya Samiti, Bhujabal’s NGO committed to conserving birds. Initially, they didn’t get anything in return, hence sometimes Bhujabal provided them with rice and pulses. 

Gradually, things changed after a decade. Birds such as Red Crested Pochard, Common Moorhen, Cotton Teal or Pygmy Goose and Greyhead Lapwings started descending on Mangalajodi. As a result, there was an influx of tourists, thus bringing new livelihood opportunities for villagers. Now they could work as tourist guides, boat-makers, ferrymen and even assist the researchers. “Had we continued poaching, we would have lost rare species like Australian Stilts. Our kids and grandkids wouldn’t have seen the spectacle of colourful migratory birds that Mangalajodi is known for,” says Shiba.

The Samiti now functions as an organisation. Their efforts have been recognised by The Chilika Development Authority. In 2018, Odisha tourism started the ‘Chilika Bird Festival’ to give a push to the initiative by Managalajodi. The success story of Managalajodi encouraged several other villages to follow suit. Sorona, Jatiapatna and Sundarpur villages under Tangi block now opt for ecotourism as a source of their livelihood.

Managaljodi is one of the prime examples that prove the importance of community participation in nature conservation. However, there’s a long way to go. Villagers know that tourism comes with its own set of challenges. Now the Samiti wants demarcation of Mangalajodi into two zones — one for tourists and the other for researchers, photographers and bird lovers.