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For the Sarus crane: conservation is No.1 on the agenda for this Maharashtra village

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 27 March 2017, 18:12 IST
(Savan Bahekar)

With a population of around 1,000 people, Parasvada village in Gondia district of Vidarbha in Maharashtra is much like other villages around it. But unlike the others, Parasvada has become a known name among ornithologists world over for its efforts in preserving the ecology of the region.

In fact, today, it is the only place in Maharashtra where Sarus crane is found.

Shailendra Hirankhede, the sarpanch of Parasvada says, “The conservation project has given a special identity to our village. People from across the country visit us as the project has taken our village on national level. Today, each and every person in the village, including the children is contributing to wetland and bird conservation.”

Making the difference

Savan Bahekar

If one were to visit the village, they’d see paintings of birds, along with information about said bird, all along the walls instead of the usual anti-tobacco, family planning ads that are commonplace across the country.

Ask any child to identify a migratory bird for you, and he’ll likely tell you a lot more. 

But four years ago, this was not the way of the village. When Savan Bahekar, an avid birder and Honorary Wildlife Warden of Gondia district, decided to btry restoring Parasvada lake to help conserve the birds population visiting the lake in 2011, the villagers were not very receptive.

The sarpanch of Parasvada says the conservation project has given a special identity to the village

“I have been visiting Parasvada and adjoining lakes in the area since 2005 and my friends and I have been monitoring birds there since then. In 2011, we decided to take up wetland and bird conservation at Parasvada. After some initial reluctance, the villagers joined in and have transformed the Parasvada lake into a world class wetland and bird conservation site,” says Bahekar.

A diminished habitat

Savan Bahekar

According to Bahekar, there used be thousands of winged visitors 10 years ago, but the number reduced drastically over time. “There used to be around 10 Sarus cranes at the lake; later that dropped to one or two due to environment destruction. The situation was deteriorating fast and needed urgent intervention to revive the ecosystem.”

Lakes and birds are crucial for the ecosystem in Gondia district. Since it is a paddy growing area, lakes play a vital role in agriculture.

Bahekar, with the help of the villagers and his associates at Sustaining Environment & Wildlife Assemblage undertook biodiversity conservation at Parasvada, compiled the data about birds, aquatic plants and fishes in the lakes. They identified invasive species of aquatic plants and started their scientific eradication.

“Even while eradicating the invasive species, we have to be highly careful. Over the years, birds have adapted to the invasive species. Hence, a portion of it needs to be spared for nesting,” Bahekar said.

Apart from invasive plants, the water bodies in the region faced another major problem. “The government had allotted fishing contracts to various organisations. They brought in exotic species for financial gains. The exotic species were proving dangerous for the birds visiting the area. We decided to create pressure from the villagers to ban exotic fish species from being bred in the lakes and ponds around Parasvada,” Bahekar said.

It was easier than said. It took a great deal of effort to get everyone to stand up against the use of exotic fish. 

“Though they earned a lot of money for the contractor, we realised exotic fish species were harming the lakes and the birds,” says Gabbulal Hanvate, member of the Biodiversity Conservation Committee at Parasvada.

A rejuvenated ecosystem

Native plant species that had become near extinct or extinct in the area were re-introduced and lakes rejuvenated over time. “We took up restoration of three lakes at Parasvada, Amgaon and Lohara in Gondia district. Parasvada and Lohara are completely restored now,” Bahekar says.

“The Sarus crane is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. The bird thrives only in non-polluted lakes and helps the paddy crop as well. We have recorded 37 cranes around Parasvada lake. Of these, 11 are regularly seen,” says Shriram Rahangdale, another member of the village’s Biodiversity Conservation Committee.

Encouraged by the results, Bahekar and his team have decided to restore 50 lakes in the district. “A formal proposal for restoration of 22 lakes has already been sent to forest and civic authorities. The work of these lakes will start soon,” he says.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

First published: 27 March 2017, 18:12 IST