Flamingo City

Jan 21 2013, 11:55 IST
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a colony of the birds in the region. a colony of the birds in the region.
SummaryEvery winter, flamingos flock to small islands in the Rann of Kutch. The story of a near-endangered species and how it has made the seasonal salt marsh in the Thar Desert home.

of almost the whole region during the cold months that follow the monsoon.

Flamingo city, like the Rann, was sculpted by a natural force — an earthquake. Locals say it was created by Allah. “That’s how Allah Bund got its name,” said Vijay Kumar of the Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology in Bhuj, who has studied the Rann’s corrosive personality for more than a decade, particularly the way it degrades what little vegetation is left in patches. The bunding helped create a vast seasonal lagoon which turns into a salt desert that shimmers white once the water evaporates. In the middle of this are several islands known as bets, and one particularly isolated island called Sindal Bet (also called Anda Bet by Border Security Force personnel due to its tilted egg-shape).

It’s here that hordes of flamingos turn up after the monsoons. On this small island, which is about 250 m long and 35-40 m wide, and which stands just about six feet taller than the surrounding Rann, flamingos build their plateau-like nests, lay an egg in each of them and feed themselves and their young on the various organisms found in the fertile lagoon waters, making the tiny island India’s largest and, until 15 years ago, the only breeding ground for the country’s two flamingo species.

This massive breeding exercise was first recorded in 1883 by the late Maharao Khengarji of Kutch, according to Dr HS Singh, the former chairman of the Gujarat Biodiversity Board. Six decades later, the birdman of India, Dr Ali, made the arduous trip to the bet, documenting about five lakh flamingos and stating that these birds, when they don’t breed, fly cross-country to wetlands such as Point Calimere in southern Tamil Nadu and Chilika Lake in Orissa. Ali made several trips to the place in the following years, and it was in 1975 that a young scientist called PS Thakker met him in Hindolgadh in Rajkot’s Jasdan region. Thakker, who joined ISRO’s Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad that year, had already begun peeking at images beamed to earth by the Bhaskara satellite, observing the phenomenon through an eye in the sky. “In 1980, the water on the Rann rose quite high. Flamingos did not breed that year. Sindal Bet itself was almost covered by water,” he says, pulling up old images on a computer screen, recalling a site visit with fellow scientists in February 2004,

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