Listing of Koothankulam Hen Sanctuary as Ramsar web-site usually means very little


Listing of Koothankulam Bird Sanctuary as Ramsar internet site signifies tiny

The conservation work out will be in vain if the place’s dynamic ecology is sought to be controlled.


It was a incredibly hot morning in April as we rode to Koonthankulam, the hen sanctuary in close proximity to Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. We noticed painted storks gathering supplies for nesting and some feeding their chicks perched on major of the stunted shrubs of  Prosopis juliflora (vilayati babul or seemai karuvelam in Tamil) that fringe Koonthankulam village. As we moved into the village, we could see the birds larger up, nesting on neem, marutham, puli, and banyan trees correct subsequent to the properties. Right before moving into the sanctuary, we stopped at a corner shop to have tea.

The discussion in excess of tea with area persons obviously centred on birds and the sanctuary. Whilst underlining the worth of birds in their life, they expressed disappointment above the amenities promised by the point out but not delivered in spite of Koonthankulam’s standing as a sanctuary (due to the fact 1994) and tourist spot. Koonthankulam Hen Sanctuary, unfold about 129.33 ha, grew to become a Ramsar website in 2021. This year, to celebrate India’s 75th year of Independence, 11 far more wetlands (4 of them in Tamil Nadu) were being additional to the checklist of Ramsar web-sites to just take the tally to 75. Taken together, they cover an area of 13,26,677 ha.

“The supervision of numerous Ramsar sites in India leaves significantly to be wanted.”

In October 1982, India signed the Ramsar Conference for the conservation of wetlands and selected Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan and Chilika Lake in Odisha as Ramsar web-sites. The range has long gone up exponentially in excess of the very last 40 several years. But what has altered for the web-sites in conditions of conservation immediately after they obtained the label?

Sad to say, most of the Ramsar web pages are in no much better issue than ahead of. The reasons could be area-unique but the fact stays that in India, wetlands continue on to be viewed in isolation, with out a proper system or regulatory framework in put to conserve them. And this in spite of India staying a signatory not only to the Ramsar Convention but also to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and the Convention of Organic Variety. Normally, when Ramsar web-sites are also specified Shielded Parts (PAs), management plans involved with PAs are specified precedence, which does not go effectively with the mandate of Ramsar internet sites or the Wetlands (Conservation and Management Rules), 2017. We can observe all these forces at enjoy in the scenario of Koonthankulam.

Cautious custodians

Koonthankulam is described as early as in 1906 in the  Journal of Bombay Organic Historical past Society by C.E. Rhenius, who was centered in Tuticorin. But the spot was associated with birds even before that, as Magalraj Johnson, former IFS officer from Tirunelveli, writes in the  Publication for Birdwatchers. He states that Koonthankulam was dominated by “Telugu-chatting vegetarian Pannaiyars, who are stated to have migrated from Andhra some 300 yrs again for the duration of a famine. They experienced been, all together, nervous caretakers and careful custodians of the breeding birds and experienced prevented other meat-having communities from molesting nests and nestlings. Everyone found to have harmed or killed a fledgling was taken in procession around the village, with the dead chook tied close to his neck. These punishments properly supplied safety.”

Painted storks nesting close to homes at Koonthankulam village in 2016.
| Image Credit history: SHAIKMOHIDEEN A

The birds felt so shielded in this village of around 950 family members that they applied to make their nests on the roofs of houses. This is getting rarer now as the common attitude of the villagers has changed, mostly because of to the new procedures imposed by the authorities that are inclined to retain the people today at just one eliminate from the birds and wetlands. The Pannaiyars have also began leaving the village. Now the birds appear to truly feel far more protected on trees, even if they are the short  Prosopis.

Koonthankulam has been a chicken sanctuary considering that 1994. The sanctuary has two irrigation tanks, the Koonthankulam tank (71.02 ha) and the Kadankulam tank (58.31. ha). At the very least 100 species of birds closely linked with water can be found in the sanctuary itself and much more than 250 species can be located if we choose Koonthankulam to indicate the surrounding grasslands as properly. The Koonthankulam tank has generations-old colonies of the globally threatened place-billed pelican. In the early 1990s, about 1,000 location-billed pelicans had been recorded, and previous year, about 676 nests have been described by a local chicken-watcher, Balpandi. Painted storks also breed in huge numbers on the village trees, often on trees inside of the tanks. Nest mounds of greater flamingos have been spotted while breeding has not been confirmed.

H2o shortage

Birds are intended to have started nesting inside the wetland only after  Acacia nilotica (gum Arabic) trees were being planted in the shallow spots of the Koonthankulam tank by the Tirunelveli Social Forestry Division of the Tamil Nadu Forest Division in 1980. As the birds shifted, availability of water became a vital concern. The tank will get h2o from the Manimuthar river positioned almost 50 km away by way of an 80-foot-extensive canal. Drought can severely have an impact on breeding. It occurred in the earlier and a lot more just lately in 2016 when each the south-west and north-east monsoons failed, and the canal dried up.

Flamingoes at Koonthankulam

Modifying cultivation styles have added to the issue. When the space has always experienced paddy cultivation, rainfed extended-duration kinds were cultivated in the previous as opposed to the hybrid varieties that are planted now. The latter take in far more water as they come up additional promptly, enabling the harvest of two crops in a quick interval.

The silt from the tank bed, enriched with chook guano, has been usually utilised by local people for their horticultural requirements. In accordance to the villagers, this is no more time permitted. Drinking water dries up completely in the sanctuary’s wetlands at least as soon as a 12 months even during standard monsoons. Removing of silt assists maintain water during intervals of drinking water lack, enabling fish to endure and so benefiting the birds. Allowing for it also generates goodwill in the neighborhood. This can be a win-get problem for both of those farmers and the forest division.

Sensible use

The supervision of numerous Ramsar web-sites in India leaves significantly to be desired—boundaries have not been delineated on the ground, techniques to watch ecological character and management usefulness are advertisement hoc, and funding is designed on a task-to-task basis. Of the present Ramsar web-sites, a majority are designated PAs too. Which indicates that the administration of these internet sites is largely governed by the demands of the species existing there and their habitats, leaving no area for augmenting prevailing programs by taking into account the regional hydrology and the ecological character of the landscape.

Pelicans nesting at Kazhuvurkulam near Koonthankulam in 2020.

Pelicans nesting at Kazhuvurkulam close to Koonthankulam in 2020.
| Picture Credit rating: V. KARTHIKALAGU

For instance, a freak storm in 2019 uprooted quite a few trees in Koonthankulam, killing nearly 65 painted storks. This had never ever occurred in advance of. As these kinds of freak alterations in climate pattern become normal, principles will have to be modified. Just one way out is to create a network of tanks with suited nesting web sites for the birds to opt for from. Boundaries of Ramsar web pages can be demarcated preserving the ecological landscape in see. This is in particular critical for significantly-ranging birds, who opt for their roosting and nesting internet sites depending on the sources out there from the land and the security they deliver.

Kazhuvur in the vicinity of Koonthankulam is also a superior nesting web site for pelicans, but the colonies are frequently disturbed there, deterring the birds. So, introducing wetlands from outside the house the PA community is vital: it also quantities to a judicious software of the “wise use” method described in the 2017 wetland rules. In the case of Koonthankulam, bringing the much-neglected bordering grasslands that are property to a number of migratory and resident species underneath the ambit of the sanctuary will assistance shield them.


At any time since Koonthankulam was declared a PA, far more species have begun nesting in the space surrounding the tank. Will the Ramsar tag bring more advantages? For the neighborhood associated, it may well total to just yet another layer of limitations until they are appropriately educated. Since the birds have lived in near proximity to the human settlement for generations, the people today are unable to be left out of initiatives to conserve them. What is essential below, as in most Ramsar web pages in India, is group-dependent conservation that accommodates the wants of the coexisting birds/animals and human communities.

Due to the fact the Ramsar label tends to convey in much more visitors, a correct tourism infrastructure has to be in put. Numerous outdated residences in the space could be transformed to homestays with suitable consent nearby delicacies, artwork kinds can be integrated into the program so that travellers get a selection of encounters and villagers reward from the revenue.

In this, the authorities can enlist the enable of local people today like Balpandi, who has nursed quite a few injured birds back again to overall health and is a source of awareness about the place. A community of these people can be established for all Ramsar internet sites.

Holistic initiatives

In 2021, the District Collector of Tirunelveli, Vishnu Venugopal, begun Nellai Neervalam, a group engagement and administration programme for h2o security and ecological conservation. It is made up of an considerable community of volunteers from the district and provides together departments of the federal government that usually do not chat to every single other. There may be a lesson in this for the countrywide Ramsar community.

Although the Ramsar tag provides wetlands worldwide recognition, the Ramsar secretariat does not provide more funding. The tag suggests the administration of the specified site has to meet up with worldwide expectations by leveraging resources from Point out budgets. Ramsar internet sites want systematic and continual checking to keep the position, which can be taken away also if they slide quick of standards. So more significant than the initial conferring of the label is the routine maintenance of a site’s ecological integrity: this involves continual thinking, innovation, and tailor-produced ideas, which are in small provide at the present sites.

T. Ganesh is a senior fellow and teacher at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Setting (ATREE) .M. Mathivanan is a senior analysis affiliate and coordinator at ATREE’s Agasthyamalai Neighborhood Conservation Centre, Manimutharu, Tirunelveli district.

The Crux

  • Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary, unfold around 129.33 ha, became a Ramsar internet site in 2021.
  • This 12 months, to rejoice India’s 75th yr of Independence, 11 more wetlands (4 of them in Tamil Nadu) were extra to the list of Ramsar sites to choose the tally to 75.
  • Most of the Ramsar web sites are in no better condition than just before, when they did not possess the tag.
  • In India, wetlands continue on to be considered in isolation, with no a right prepare or regulatory framework in spot to preserve them.
  • The supervision of many Ramsar sites in India leaves considerably to be desired—boundaries have not been delineated on the floor, programs to monitor ecological character and administration performance are advertisement hoc, and financing is designed on a venture-to-task foundation.
  • In situation of Koonthankulam, what is necessary is neighborhood-primarily based conservation that accommodates the requirements of the coexisting birds/animals and human communities. This holds real for most other Ramsar web-sites.

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