The lost ‘daughters’ of our famed Kokkarebellur

By Shravan Regret Iyer

Bengaluru: For hundreds of years, the village of Kokkarebellur in Mandya district of Karnataka, which has considered spot-billed pelicans and painted storks as their ‘daughters’, is now witnessing a rapid decline in the number of avian visitors to the village. It’s a known fact that the birds would come from thousands of miles away and nest in the tall trees that stand in the heart of the village. The same village that was once happy to welcome more than 2000 pelicans, now sees a mere 400 birds or less.

Kokkarebellur photo_1

Each year, during the post-monsoon season, hundreds of birds circle over the village of Kokkarebellur and choose a tree to nest in. The pelicans arrive first and settle on the crowns of mature, large-canopied trees. The lighter, more agile, storks come a few weeks later and take up residence on the outer branches. The area in the vicinity of the village offered several large tanks such as the Tailur Kere, Maddur Kere and Sole Kere that provided food for these birds.

The birds were seen nesting in clusters of 15 to 20 pairs per tree. They lay eggs from October to November. The village women have also adopted these birds. They consider them their daughters and the feeling is similar to when their own pregnant daughters come home for childbirth. For over six months, bird and man co-exist peacefully and the droppings of these fish-eating birds rich in nitrates are used as natural fertiliser.

Watch: ‘The vanishing wings of Kokkarebellur’: Nearly 30 years ago, the village of Kokkarebellur in Mandya district of Karnataka was home to more than 2000 pelicans and the numbers have now dwindled to a mere 400 birds. 

For over 500 years the village has been shared by birds and human beings living in perfect harmony. But now this age-old pattern of peace between the avian visitors and their human hosts has been rudely shattered and the very existence of the pelicans is in jeopardy.

Nearly thirty years ago the village provided a home to more than 2000 pelicans. The numbers have now dwindled to a mere 400 birds.

“Lack of nesting space is one of the major factors contributing to the decline in the number of pelicans and storks,” said a villager.

There are only about 200 trees left in the village where the birds nest. There has been an increase in demand for firewood to cook food and also to burn bricks that are manufactured here for local use. This has caused the decline in the number of trees both in and around the village.

The increasing conversion of the land for arable crops has also caused the loss of trees that provided vital breeding sites. In the village of Bannahalli, about two kilometers from Kokkare Bellur, both the pelicans and storks have stopped breeding due to lack of nesting space.

From time to time, these birds are also victim to the high-tension line that passes through the village, very near the nesting trees. “Each year about 20 to 25 birds get electrocuted,” says a villager.

A recent intervention by the members of the pelican conservation group to increase the distance between the power lines and the neutral lines of the high-tension wires that pass close to the Bellur lake, was successful, as many birds used to get electrocuted while taking off from the lake and landing.

Once the birds have laid eggs, the predators come in large numbers. Cats and dogs feed on these chicks that have fallen from the nest.

The local villagers do manage save some of these chicks. They feed them and raise them to the fledgeling stage so they can return to the wild.

Every season means new life for these birds. How many more seasons of life do we intend to give these birds? With the nesting grounds soon disappearing, who will know or remember these birds once they are gone forever?

Illegal sand mining biggest threat to birds

The illegal sand mining activity seen along the banks of the river Shimsha, about 800 meters away from the village of Kokkare Bellur, is also leading to the shrinking of water bodies which provide food for these migratory birds.

“Sand loads are being transported on bullock carts. It is something of an open secret. Sand collected here is later sold at unimaginably high prices,” said a villager.


This story was originally published in Deccan Chronicle May 9, 2016, edition.