April 2010: Vishwas Katdare and Ram Mone of the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) were birding in the Vengurla Rocks in south Konkan when they saw a nesting colony of the Indian Swiftlet in a cave on Bandra Rocks (local name of the islet). There were hundreds of swiftlets engaged in nest building.
What was worrisome, however, was the huge scaffolding, erected by poachers to collect the nests. Heaps of old bamboos lay on the ground and a thick layer of droppings was seen all over the ground as well as the top surface of the scaffolding.
A resident bird of coastal Western Ghats, particularly the western coastal strip from Ratnagiri and further south, and throughout Sri Lanka, the Indian Swiftlet or Indian Edible Nest Swiftlet Collocalia unicolor builds its nest in natural caves and on rocky cliffs. This tiny blackish brown bird with a slightly forked tail is a colonial builder. The male uses thick saliva to build the white, shiny nest in which two eggs are laid. Unfortunately, its nests are considered an aphrodisiac in Southeast Asian countries and are highly priced in the international market for making edible nest soup.
On the basis of information supplied by the SNM, the forest department arrested the poachers red-handed on April 17, 2001, exposing an international smuggling racket dealing in Indian Swiftlets. The poachers had been collecting nests for 10 to 15 years. SNM then decided to embark on a proper survey of the area. Their team made subsequent visits in June, November and December 2001 and continued to survey the area. Their surveys resulted in highlighting the danger to these birds; protection was extended to the caves by the forest department and the scaffolding was removed. On a visit in May 2002, the team found around 58 nests in just one square metre area. Nests were also found at lower levels, clearly indicating that the birds felt more secure. Protection had helped increase the number of nests. SNM’s strong lobbying resulted in the inclusion of the bird in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. SNM is now pushing to get the forest department to declare the rocks as a sanctuary. There is also a breeding colony of terns in the rocks.
It is organisations like the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra that are truly making a difference. An NGO involved in nature conservation, education and research, it was started by a small group of wildlife lovers in 1992 in Konkan, Maharashtra. Over the last 15 years, the NGO has slowly but surely developed into an active force in wildlife conservation with a number of effective and much needed environmental projects under its wing. These include their White-bellied Sea Eagle Conservation Project, wherein over a period of five years, SNM monitored nests and studied the birds’ breeding biology using close-circuit cameras in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. The Vulture Conservation Project is another key initative. For four years, SNM has been working to protect the critically endangered White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis and to change the direction of their dwindling numbers in Konkan. In collaboration with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), SNM has been conducting surveys and studying the causes of their decline. On discovering nesting sites, SNM keeps them under careful surveillance during the breeding season. A Vulture Conservation Centre – a 500 sq. foot fenced area – is being built to keep carcasses of animals for the vultures to feed on.
Since October 2002, SNM’s Marine Turtle Conservation Project has resulted in a great deal of awareness along the entire coastline of Maharashtra. A total stretch of 65 km. is being closely monitored and physical protection is being provided to the turtle nests, with the involvement of the local communities. In the first year, SNM protected some 50 nests of the olive ridley turtles and released 2,734 hatchlings at Velas in Ratnagiri district. In the last five years, they have extended this project to the entire 720 km. coastline of Maharashtra, protecting a total of 214 nests and releasing more than 9,000 hatchlings into the sea. The project has now been scaled up to cover 27 coastal villages. To make turtle conservation sustainable, SNM hopes to involve other local NGOs and volunteers. This year, SNM is carrying out marine turtle conservation and awareness by community participation through a project from the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme. The project is being carried out in five villages in the Ratnagiri District. The project includes hatchery management, nest monitoring, creation of a long-term conservation action plan and development of alternative income sources to reduce pressure on natural resources.
The Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra strongly believes that conservation education can truly make a massive difference to wildlife protection and has taken a number of initiatives through nature trails, slide shows, awareness campaigns, residential camps, workshops and seminars, classroom activities, tree plantations and discussions with local communities. Local youth and members of local NGOs have been drawn into the turtle conservation activities, for which the SNM provides training, equipment and resources. They recently organised a ‘Turtle Festival’, the main purpose of which was to draw nature lovers from all over Maharashtra to quietly observe the release of turtle hatchlings in the sea, and thereby increase awareness and sensitivity. They have also instituted a ‘Turtle Friend’ award to honour work done by locals or NGOs. Additionally, the NGO organises activities for the local Maharashtra State Forest Department staff and the annual ‘Konkan Friends of Birds’ meet, runs a nature library for students free of cost and a students’ nature club and also takes cares of injured birds.
The Sahyadri Nisaga Mitra is a perfect example of how limited funds or organisation size need not be constraints in working to protect wildlife in your area.
For more information on SNM or how you can contribute, contact:
Vishwas (Bhau) Katdare,
Near Laxminarayan Temple Chiplun, District Ratnagiri, Maharashtra.
Tel.: (O) 9423831700
(R) 02355-252443 Fax: 02355-252128