Mangalajodi village is one of the many villages located along the banks of the Chilika Lagoon where thousands of migratory waterfowls and resident birds visit and breed each year. Like other neighboring villages Magalajodi was famous for poaching of migratory birds. Few villagers were involved in these poaching practices who later on transformed into diehard conservationist through the efforts of local NGO, “Wild Orissa”. Now the peoples who were earlier killing the birds are actively protecting the birds and their nesting ground with the support of whole village. They have formed “Sri Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samiti” (Bird Protection Committee) in December, 2000. The effort of the committee was recognized by the state government of Orissa when it got the most prestigious “the Pakhshi Bandhu (brothers of birds) Award for the year 2001”. However the ex-poachers sacrificed their major income source at the cost of conservation, and now they are projecting their village as prospective site of an ideal community based ecotourism, for sustained income and profits percolating to the conserving community.

The Conservation Attempt:
Each year thousands of migratory waterfowls like, pintails, bar headed geese, godwit, shell duck, etc. visit and breed in the wetlands around Mangalajodi village. Along with the migratory waterfowls various rare resident species, like purple moorhen, purple heron, egrets, open billed storks, etc. also reside and breed in this area. Till the year 1996-97, poaching the birds and their eggs was done for house hold consumption and selling in nearby areas. This was one of the major sources of income for the villagers. A proficient poacher would earn around up to Rs 40,000 in a month!

There are aproximatly three hundred families in Mangalajodi village. The village is under Sundarpur Grampanchayat, of Tangi Block of Khurda district. The major occupation is fishing in Chilika; the fishing is mostly done in open Chilika and the channels connected with the Chilika. Few varieties of fresh water fishes are harvested in channels while, major fish catch is from Chilika. There are 15 to 20 families in Mangalajodi (titled Behera) involved in agriculture mainly, while some fishermen hold small land submerged in water most of the time of the year. This land is used for cultivation of peculiar local variety seems to be wet resistant. There are some families who migrate from Bengal, collect a plat called “Sitali”, locally and make traditional fishing nests out of it.

Members of an NGO called Wild Orissa got involved with village since the year 1996 and began to talk to the villagers about protection of birds. Initially they faced serious difficulties but eventually with the help of enthusiastic and knowledgeable individuals in the village Sri Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samiti (Bird Protection Committee) was constituted in 2000. When we went deep in the roots, we came to know, that these seeds of conservation were sowed by one dedicated wildlife conservationist Mr. Nanda Kishor Bhujabal and his crew who are the members of “Wild Orissa”, an organization working on wildlife conservation issues.

The Wild Orissa started working in Mangalajodi and surrounding villages, since 1997, Mr. Bhujabal and other members of Wild Orissa built a rapport with the villagers, especially poachers, they involved in each sad and happy moments of villagers life, helped them to solve their problems, supported them in needs and constantly gave them realization about impact of bird poaching on village environment, eco-system balance, benefit of bird conservation by sitting and discussing constantly. (The most important thing villagers realized was the feeling of ownership over Chilika birds which wasn’t earlier due to approach of forest and wildlife department to always accuse local people as destroyer and alienate them from benefits they enjoyed, which ultimately resulted in hardship from local people, split them from resources on which they depend from centuries. This discontent resulted in the feeling that bird, animals, tree belongs to the department, what can we gain from their protection? We will enjoy them at the maximum).

This long term process of motivation got success when all the twenty five poachers from Mangalajodi decided to leave poaching and formed a committee for protecting of bird, which they earlier used to kill. During the early part of year 2000 the local Divisional Forest Officer Chilika Wildlife Division Mr. Anoop Kumar Nayak invited Wild Orissa to involve its members in containing poaching/hunting of waterfowl in Chilika Lake.

The bird protection committee
The “Sri Mahavir Pakhshi Surakshya Samiti”, i.e. “Mahavir Bird Protection Committee”, (Committee onward) was formed in the village Mangalajodi on the 10th of December 2000. As mentioned earlier all the ex-poachers are members of this committee, the general body is constituted by all members and they meet once in a year, while there is an executive body made up of seven members including President and Secretary, this executive body takes all the decisions related to bird conservation and committee.
Six members’ form the committee goes for daily surveillance and patrolling to check incidences of poaching, three members do patrolling by boat and three by staying at watch tower and three by staying at watch tower. The Wildlife Department has provided two committee members (Kishor and Subhash) an honorary place at the honorarium of 1500Rs/month for four months considered peak for migratory birds (i.e. November to February). Kishor is also Secretary of the committee who is a key stone in this initiative, he is an expert knows each and every aspect of Mangalajodi Ghera. Moreover Wild Orissa has procured small wooden boats for patrolling and monitoring, and these boats are also supporting two one-time poachers, for income generation. The committee members took special patrolling and surveillance operation along with Wild Orissa members. The daily surveillance is accompanied by fishing where both aims, i.e. vigilance and livelihood together. Whenever the committee members come across the incidents of poaching they try to convince the poacher to leave poaching they inform him about impact of poaching on environment and counsel him not to do this act for common good. After this counseling still the culprit is not convinced and caught again, then committee members hand over him to the department.

At the time of official establishment, bylaw of the committee was framed by president of committee and Sarpanch (President of Panchayat Samitee). Therefore the Panchayat Samitee supported the committee in full fledged manner. However when we went deep inside the matter we came to know that villagers had some inhibitions for bird protection, as they misconceived that if birds are being protected the Mangalajodi area will be declared as sanctuary which will result in curtailment of their rights over Chilika, which they are enjoying from centuries. This misbelieve of villagers was changed by committee members after a long process of process of informal discussion and lateral dialogue. The committee members receive lots of support from villagers in the form of information about fishy matter occurring inside the channel.

When the committee framed resolution and passed it, they informed all villagers and surrounding villages about conservation measures, all accepted it with very less resistance. This may be because the primary concerned population i.e. poachers were convinced to leave poaching and protect the birds. Therefore formation of committee of ex poachers for bird protection was the treatment to the root threat of the bird population i.e. illicit poaching.

Impact of conservation measure:
Its efforts have almost completely eliminated bird poaching here, and some of the ex-hunters have become die-hard conservationists. Members of bird committee undertook surveillance and patrolling on their own or with members of Wild Orissa and forest department in surrounding area of Chilika to check the bird poaching. The bird protection committee has also take help of other villagers in bird conservation.

The committee members are also involved in various scientific projects like bird census, egg monitoring, etc. which educate them with English names of birds, however the long term experience of these ex-poachers enable them to identify birds, their eggs, their behaviour, important bird habitats, which prove to be very useful contribution for effective conservation of endangered birds.
The committee members also support and actively take part in research activities done in Mangalajodi area; they get involved in yearly bird census, bird movement monitoring and egg monitoring. The Mangalajodi Ghera is not only providing winter habitat to thousands of migratory birds but is also important habitat for many resident bird like Purple Moor Hen, India Moor Hen, Coots, Herons, Storks and many more. The dense vegetation of Nal grass and other aquatic and semi-aquatic species provide good habitat to many water birds like Purple Moor Hen, India Moor Hen, Coots, Herons, Godwit and many more, like wise it also provide shelter to many terrestrial birds red munia, black headed munia, common mayna, bank mayna, warblers and many more. Here they get safe shelter and ample of food, both the said requirements instigate many of the birds to nest in this area.

Threats and Opportunities:
Since poaching of birds and their eggs is stopped, the members seek for a viable alternative of livelihood. In these efforts these poachers left easy lucrative source of income merely for protection of birds. I think it is simple for the people who are not involved or are not dependent on the wildlife resources, to talk about conservation and also to go forward. However in this case people who used to get income from wild life resources (some of them even don’t have any viable alternative) convinced to conserve, at the expense of whatever they get, which is quite amazing and rare.

Earlier most of the birds were threatened by poaching of eggs or their eggs were stamped by grazing cattle, however now the committee members are providing safety to these nesting areas from poaching and stampeding, by daily supervision of the area. In early of nesting season committee members make villagers aware about nesting of birds, precautions to be taken to conserve the nest and areas to be shunned. The long term efforts of these villagers are giving results slowly, number of bird visiting this place is increased as well various unusual findings are recorded in this area.

According to committee members nesting is pronounced day by day. The committee members actively take part in egg monitoring exercise along with members of Wild Orissa and Wildlife department. These research activities are not only enhancing committee members’ knowledge about birds and other wildlife but are also helpful in harnessing their year long experience gained during close interaction with nature. The experience of these ex-poachers is very valuable in the field of wildlife conservation where most of the secrets are unexplored. Thus the knowledge which was earlier used for killing innocent creatures is now being utilized for protecting and nurturing the same. Through these kinds of activities the members can improve their knowledge base and thereby capacitate themselves to protect the wildlife in better way.

In peak nesting season of resident birds i.e. June-September, the committee have to take extra care for protection of bird nesting area. The committee members are well versed with behavior of birds, their feeding and nesting habits, habitat requirements of birds which they acquired during poaching period.

Yet few committee members share their concern over changing environment of Chilika due to siltation caused by deforestation in upstream forest areas thereby carrying loads of tones of silt in the lake and resulting in early aging of it. The intervention of creation of new Chilika mouth and dredging in lake is also resulting in changing local microclimatic conditions resulting in to change in species composition and changed productivity. While many of the villagers have observed differences in pre dredging and post dredging period that evidences fall in fish catch thereby affecting livelihood of thousands of fishermen.

Some of the experienced members of the committee like Kishor, spell ideas and plans to improve upon the conditions where by water will retain in Mangalajodi Ghra and support both fishermen as well as birds. Some initial work is done by forest department, through this work the department has created small water bodies, but according to committee members these water bodies are of very less use to birds as well as people, therefore ground consultation is must before implementation of any plan. (In participatory approach we have to devise a system where, people are not only guardians, rather they are involved in decision making and implementation of decisions.)

However during discharging their duties the committee member have to face various problems. In the initial period when they banned poaching, they faced confrontation from poachers of surrounding villages, in some cases they need to face resistance from their own people. After long negotiation they are successful in reducing these conflicts. Here the committee members required to struggle for their stake in society with other stake holders. This all was done to ensure a safe habitat for birds. Now poaching is taking place in surrounding villages not in Mangalajodi, the committee members are trying to curb these evidences also and making dialogue with neighboring villagers, although poachers from surrounding villages came inside Mangalajodi and threatened the committee members if they ward off of doing so. The Mangalajodi Ghera is now becoming point of attraction for poachers as birds and wildlife from other areas is vanishing due to illicite poaching. In this year one person from adjacent Sarona village caught while poaching however he escaped from the hands of patrolling group. The major threat of poaching is from poachers from Sarona village.

Furthermore it is observed that arrival of migratory bird increase soil fertility through their droppings (guano), which is rich source of phosphates. This Land is used for rice cultivation in agricultural season.

Now the fascinating bird diversity in this area is attracting tourist, which can be considered as good prospect of ecotourism for fulfilling livelihood needs of local conservationist.