Peafowl the national bird of India is fascinating specie, and has been an inspiration for poets since ages. Striking plumage, enthralling blue colour and interesting courtship behaviour (courtship dance during monsoon) of the peafowl, attracts human attention. However its beauty is becoming a threat for it, thousands of peacocks (male peafowl) are poached each year for their feathers to be used in decoratives and peacock meat is also a delicacy for some people. Beside this, habitat destruction is also taking its toll on their population, where conducible village surroundings is preferred by them is now becoming hell due to toxins poured on the crops in the form of pesticides. At many places farmers have witnessed peafowl deaths due to pesticides spread on crops especially grain crops, which form the basic diet of peafowl. In nature peafowl plays a very important role of a seed disseminator and is also the best pest controller. Since more and more area is wrapped in urban expansions, industrial areas and other activities, very little area for habitat is left for them. The population of peafowl is declining rapidly; it is beyond imagination that like national animal Royal Bengal Tiger, India is at stake of losing its national bird also.

Still there is a ray of hope as this handsome bird is feeling safe in Pakidi hill ranges of Aska in Ganjam district where people of seven villages- Subhachandrapur, Ambuabadi, Kerikerijhola, Bharatapalli, Cheramarai, Sameiguda and Karanauli are actively protecting peacocks. Their friendship is to that extent that peacocks do not hesitate to come in their habitation and agricultural fields. Due to consistent efforts of villagers, the peafowl population is on a rise and it is estimated by the villagers that the peafowl population exceeds thousand in Pakidi hill range. Their initiative is also recognized by state government by rewarding them with the prestigious “Biju Patnaik Award for wildlife conservation” for the year 2006. This award is acting as an incentive and is boosting the villagers, who are now interested in creating a center of ecotourism where they can get benefits from their conservation efforts and can protect the bird they adore the most in a better way.

Pakidi is a distinctive example of participatory conservation, where forest department is playing a crucial role in building confidence for wildlife conservation and is providing people the necessary guidance and support. From initial stage forest department is acting as a catalyst in the process and is accelerating of initiation. In fact forest department is in co-alliance with the villagers in their efforts.

Formation of Peacock Protection Committee:
Though people are involved in providing safe atmosphere to the peacock, since last twenty years the initiative took proper shape in 2005, when “Ganjam Mayur Surakhya Samittee” i.e. Peacock Protection Committee was formed on 30th April 2005. The committee consists of fourteen members from seven villages, where each village is represented by two members, President Mr. Sameer Pradhan and Secretary (Ranger Aska range). The committee looks into all matters related to peacock protection i.e. from protection measures to fulfillment of habitat needs of the peacock.

From the initial period, villagers were passively involved in a friendly way, but their actions didn’t have any shape, it was part of their regular life. However the formalization started after 2000, when a Zila Parishad, member Mr. Sameer Pradhan, and forest department initiated awareness of the collective action for peafowl protection. The meetings were conducted at village level where discussion regarding peafowl conservation and role of villagers in conservation measures was discussed. As a result people realized the need of collective action for peafowl protection and a village level decision was taken for the protection of peafowl by all the sectors.. In the meeting the seven villages decided to collaborate and form “Mayur Surakhya Samittee”, in 2005.

Prior to 2005, people had concern for peacocks, however owing to degraded conditions of forest and heavy poaching, wildlife was perished to the maximum extend. According to the villagers of Shobhachandrapur there was nothing in the forest before twenty years. After plantation done by forest department under “SIDA”, the villagers started protecting the forest; which was handed to them as “Gramya Jungle” by the forest department. Because of good protection measures, the forest regeneration was plenty and now the area holds good vegetation which provides shelter to the wild species like peacock. Peacocks being the main attraction to the villagers for its beauty and religious sentiments assigned to it, when we asked, “why you are protecting peacocks?”, the answer was “it’s a very beautiful bird, when the monsoon clouds loom in the sky, peacock perform a breathtaking rain dance therefore we are protecting these beautiful angels of God.” People also collect shaded peacock feathers and use them for beautification of temples, and put them in the crown of “Lord Jaganath”, they are also used in some rituals.

However the area was suffering from massive illegal poaching, most of these activities were done by the outsiders (mostly people from nearby towns). There were two people in the village Shobhachandrapur who were engaged in poaching, however villagers are successful in convincing them to leave poaching. To avoid poaching incidents there is a informal set of rotational patrolling (Thengapally), every day 3-4 members of the village committee go for night patrolling, to check theft and poaching as the maximum possibility of these crimes is during the night. People are prepared to move immediately towards the forest by indications of gun shots etc. This system is proved to be efficient in protection of forest and wildlife. It has not only resulted in conserving peafowl but also led to the the reappearance of forest and indirect protection is proving helpful for other wild animals like Bear, Barking deer, Hyena, Wolfs and other. After efficient increase in peacock population the hunter bird species, called “Mahua”, has reappeared. Few peacock causalities are also reported due to Mahua which bothers the villagers. Still it is tough to convince local people the rule of nature where the hunter bird is controlling the peacock population and is thereby maintaining a balanced and healthy ecosystem conducive for the peacock.

However the most intense problem faced by villagers in taking care of peacocks is scarcity of water during summer season, causalities are also seen during this time, since thirsty peafowl get trapped in open wells and eventually die under stress and starvation. Many people have observed problems faced by the bird to fulfill their water requirement, and now collectively a decision is taken that villagers will provide water to the birds on rotational basis. In this practice every member of the village is trying its best, women and children of the village are the key persons in the system. In the village Ambuabadi, total area of the village is divided into three regions, and village population is also divided in three groups i.e. children, men and women groups. Each group is assigned with one region as per the suitability for providing water to the peafowl. The children are provided with area surrounding the school where they can easily work, the school teachers are motivating and grooming children for peacock conservation, here seeds of love for nature are sowed in the minds of young generation which will be helpful in the future.

Most of the villagers from Pakidi, provide water to the peafowl in pitchers, these pitchers are placed at every one or two kilometer, where peafowl comes to drink water. This measure is resulting in prohibiting dispersal of birds in other area where they are prone to poaching. In the “Gramya Jungle” of village Shobhachandrapur, one water tank (Pokhari) is constructed by the Forest Department this tank is proving to be a good source of water for wild animals as well as domestic animals. However villagers are wishing for better managed system to tackle the problem of water scarcity, as present practices are tedious.

Being a grain eater peafowl are sometimes proved to depredate on crops like Mandya (Ragi), Mung, Biri, Kosala and other. Still it is not considered as a big issue by the villagers, some of the villagers have also identified peafowl as best pest traps, still villagers want to raise additional plantations of the aforesaid grain crops exclusively for peafowl, for which they require funds to carryout this activity.

The forest:
The Pakidi forest block is a “Demarcated Protected Forest” that falls under Aska forest range of South Ghumsur Forest Division of Ganjam district. The Pakidi block comprises of ten compartments spread over 1970.00 hectors (Declared as a reserved land under The Madras Forest Act, 1882). The soil is coastal alluvial type. The forest mainly consists of plantations of Cassia sp. Still the natural vegetation represents “Dry Deciduous Scrub”; the soil is exposed and broken at many places. The shrub grows up to 3-6mt height and occurs in patches, bamboo clumps are also present at some places. The major floral species found in this region are listed in Annexure-I. The locals showed some fruit bearing scrubs locally called “Kunjkoindi” (probably Carissa sp.) which provide basic food to the peacock and is abundant in this area. Around eighteen plantations Programme had been implemented by forest department since 1970 up to1998, details of plantation programmes conducted in Pakidi is given in Annexure-II. In these programmes mostly commercial species like Teak, Eucalyptus, Acacia, Cassia and Cashew were planted.

However the condition of forest indicates continued maltreatment like illegal logging, overgrazing, fire, etc. the forest department is now planning to implement different plantation programmes to improve condition of forest in Pakidi region. Right now people of the Pakidi region get fuel ,wood from the Cassia plantation, however integrated watershed management combined with plantation of useful species will solve the problem in a holistic manner and will definitely benefit both the peafowl as well the people.

Mr. Sameer Pradhan
Mayur Suraksha Samiti