British officials were fascinated by the way the local people adopted different methods to protect colonies of pelicans.
The villagers fed the birds and considered them to be the harbingers of good fortune. It used to be a panoramic sight when pelicans arrived in large numbers and nested in the waters of the Kolleru lake. These birds of good fortune virtually disappeared from the lake and were not to be seen for the last two decades.
Gordon Mackenzie, who was the Collector of Krishna district, compiled "The Manual of the Kistna District in the Presidency of Madras" in 1883.
The manual is still considered an authentic record of the history of modern-day Krishna and Guntur districts. Mackenzie found that colonies of pelicans were fostered in several villages in the Krishna district.
Thousands of Grey Pelicans (Pelecanus philippensis) nested in Kolleru Lake. After the advent of aquaculture, the fragile ecology of the lake was destroyed and, consequently, the habitat of the birds was also disturbed.
The Kolleru lake is considered one of the three major freshwater bodies in the country. It is compared with the Dal lake of Kashmir and the Loktak lake of Manipur. The flora and fauna of the Kolleru lake are unique.
A wide range of flora and fauna exists in the wetlands between contour lines 3 and 10. Contours are lines drawn on a map, joining points of equal height above the sea level. In the past, the water level in the lake was between contour 7 and 10 during the monsoon, and it fell to contour 3 during the dry season. The area within contour 3 is 135 square kilometres and the area within contour 10 is 901 square kilometres. These conditions do not prevail any more with fish tanks and roads occupying most of the lake. Mackenzie described the lake as a "curious depression between the alluvial deposits of Krishna and Godavari Rivers."
Though the pelicans left the lake for good, the people of Kolleti Kota Island (heart of the lake) turned to storks, cranes and other seasonal arboreal visitors for finding good luck. Kolleti Kota occupies a prominent place in the annals of Kolleru history.
Two copper plates of the Pallava period found in the lake traces its history to Langulya Gajapathi Raju of Orissa from 1237 to 1282. According to legend, the Gajapathi fort was located at Kolleti Kota on one of the eastern islands of the lake. The enemy camped at Chigurukota located on the shores. In some ways, the lake protected the Odissi garrison. The enemy finally excavated a channel, the modern-day Upputeru, so that the water of the lake would empty into the sea and the level would fall so that they could attack the Gajapathi fort. The enemy army general sacrificed his own daughter to propitiate Gods and ensure his success. Therefore the channel was called Perantala Kanama.
Base for birds
Officers of the Wildlife division of the Forest Department recorded 173 species of migratory and residential birds.
Several species of jacanas, storks, herons, ducks, teals, darters, cormorants, terns, pigeons, doves, swifts, kingfishers, bee-eaters, drongos, cuckoos, parakeets, shrikes, swallows, owls, bitterns and sparrows are on the list of birds that inhabit the lake.
The birds gradually stopped arriving with destruction of their habitat. The list of 173 birds has many rare and endangered spices. The Large Whistling Teal is listed in schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection Act) 1972.
Recently, Kolleru lake area has been declared a sanctuary and orders have been issued to the district collectors to stop aquaculture. Revenue officials used explosives to breach the bunds of huge aquaculture tanks that were inaccessible to bulldozers and excavators.
The aquaculture boom brought riches to the people living in Kolleru. The ban has denied them of a livelihood. Maybe it is time for the pelicans to return and bring good fortune to the people again.
Kolleru regains its splendour
Over 80,000 birds of 100 species flock to the lake during migratory season Over 80,000 birds of 100 species flock the lake during the ongoing migratory season
Conservative estimates of these organisations indicate that for the first time in years, over 80,000 birds of about 100 species have flocked the lake during the ongoing migratory season that lasts till March.
Conservationists, however, make it clear that the census was done only during January-February months and unofficial estimates of the number of birds that would have visited the lake during the entire migratory season could easily touch the magical two-lakh mark.
It may be recalled that operation Kolleru concluded on June 15 last year and within six months, the fresh water lake managed to attract so many species of birds. "In a year, the lake would become the best wetland region in the country. Conservatively, after the revival, the number of birds arriving to lake Kolleru has trebled," says Pranay Waghre from Nallamalai Foundation.
Treat to birdwatchers
Over 60 pelicans, a whopping 5,000 storks, 47,000 Ibises of three varieties, a variety of ducks and geese, about 600 unidentified varieties of ducks, 890 cormorants, 8,635 number of gulls and another 110 unidentified terns and a host of hawks, kingfishers and wagtails have been spotted by the team of conservators and bird counters.
The team has also identified 5,901 egrets of four varieties, 230 little Grebe and several other bird species that are not commonly found in wetland region. The AWC was taken up only to count the wetland birds. AWC is an international programme that focuses on monitoring the status of water birds and wetlands. Nallamalai Foundation, Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh, Raptor Conservation Foundation and Society for Imparting Wildlife Awareness were involved in the AWC. "The birds that we have recorded are only wetland birds. There are even more different varieties of birds that do not fall in this category. This year, the lake has managed to attract even those species of birds as well," says Mr. Waghre.