Ankasamudra Lake: A lake comes alive

Ankasamudra Lake: A lake comes alive

This haven for birds in Vijayanagara district is a great example of what community-led preservation can achieve, writes Divyashri Mudakavi

Greater flamingos at Ankasamudra.

Community participation can work wonders and a testimony to this is the Ankasamudra lake.

This lake in Hagaribommanahalli taluk, in the newly-carved out Vijayanagara district, was like several other water bodies in the state, with scanty water and frequent disturbance by human activities. But conservation efforts by bird enthusiasts and the Forest Department have transformed the lake, spread over 244.04 acres into a vibrant water body thronged with birds. 

In 2017, the lake was declared a Bird Conservation Reserve, the first-of-its-kind in the Kalyana Karnataka region.

Currently, some 175 species of birds, including 11 on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, visit the lake. Rosy starlings, open-billed storks, painted storks, spoonbills, glossy ibis, black-headed ibis, spot-billed pelicans, egrets, cormorant and herons all roost here. Apart from this, the knob-billed duck, spot-billed duck, grey heron, night heron, little grebe, darters and others also nest there. 

Turning point 

Ankasamudra lake was a thriving water body till the 1980s but began drying up due to silting. In turn, this led to people encroaching the lake and take up farming activities.

To free the lake from encroachment, local village leaders approached the social forestry wing of the Forest Department and requested them to plant the thorny Acacia nilotica trees on the dry lake bed. Slowly, the lake turned into a mini forest and began attracting many birds for roosting. 

However, the depleting groundwater table meant the lake seldom had water, except during the monsoon. 

After people began facing water shortage, the authorities started refilling this tank with water from the Tungabhadra backwaters through lift irrigation. The presence of water once again enthused the birds to roost in the thorny trees. Later, the lift irrigation system got damaged but the local gram panchayat took up tank refilling works and allowed fishing activities. 

By this time, the lake had several birds that were threatened due to human activities in the area, including fishing and poaching. 

This became a matter of concern for bird enthusiasts. 

So, enthusiasts under the aegis of groups like Society for Wildlife & Nature (SWaN) along with other NGOs, spoke to the villagers and began educating them on the importance of birds at Ankasamudra, their rarity, breeding behaviour, their conservation and also about ecology. 

Outreach efforts 

“We showed them documentaries and simultaneously experts began documenting the bird species. These efforts motivated the community to stop fishing there and begin protecting the birding area,” explained Vijay Ittigi, a local bird conservationist and member of Green HBH, an NGO.

In addition to the outreach efforts, some eight to ten islands were created in the lake bed to protect the birds from predators like feral dogs. A massive tree plantation drive was also taken up by the community, enthusiasts and the Forest Department in the open area of the lake.

SWaN also published a colour brochure on the birds and gave them to the villagers.

“We conducted a series of empowerment programmes to show how the community itself can save Ankasamudra. We gave binoculars and books to the villagers and taught them how to identify birds,” says Samad Kottur, president of SWaN.

These efforts led to the villagers becoming saviours of the birds. They prevented the cutting of trees, stopped poaching and consolidated the lake boundary to ensure a safe habitat for the birds. 

“Subsequently, along with a report on the bird diversity of Ankasamudra, we pressurised the government and succeeded in getting this lake declared as Ankasamudra Bird Conservation Reserve,” recalls Kottur.

The Conservation Reserve tag put more responsibility on the Forest Department which ensured the development of a watchtower and walking path near the lake and the creation of 38 more islands. It also appointed guards to protect the lake.

Today, this aquatic eco-system has become a paradise for birds. But a lot more remains to be done. Bird enthusiasts say there is a need to fence the lake to check potential threats from humans and animals. More trees that support the habitat of birds must be taken up.

There are also demands to restrict the number of people taking boat trips in the lake, except for study purposes.

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