The people of Kokkre Bellur and visiting pelicans – a symbiotic relationship

I was looking for a really comprehensive account of activist Dr Binayak Sen, when a memory of the past surfaced in a website run by the Free Binayak Sen Campaign, noting that one of the editorial team of three is K.P.Sasi.

A group had gathered in Bandra’s Carter Road, where the Centre for Holistic Studies was located, to watch Sasi’s splendid film: THE WINGS OF KOKKRE BELLUR (English subtitles). One of his cartoons (below) has been used by me several times over the years – its message being as valid today as it was in the 1990s.

Fortunately the Down to Earth website has come to the aid of my memory with a summary of the story of the spotted billed pelicans who have found a safe haven in a village in Karnataka, Kokkre Bellur, where the villagers safeguard them and other birds, such as painted storks.

There were one million of them in the world in 1920 but the pelicans, whose habitat is limited to India and Sri Lanka, are now an endangered species as their population has declined to less than 10,000.

K P Sasi’s film explores the relationship formed between these birds and the villagers. Charmed by the birds’ beauty, the villagers also believe that if the birds don’t migrate to the village every winter, then the next summer there will be famine. A practical base for this belief is the cultivators’ appreciation of the birds’ legacy. One farmer says, “The collected bird droppings are such good manure that we often mix mud and straw when using it for our crops.”

They also believe that the guano is highly nutritious for the fish – a belief strengthened because one year, when the birds did not come, there was very little fish in the marshes. The local fishermen have developed a symbiotic relationship with these birds who guide them to the fish.

Precautions to safeguard the birds include:

  • ensuring that tourists do not disturb them
  • making the village a day venue – permitting no hotels
  • banning lighting of crackers during the festivals which startles chicks and may cause them to fall from their nest
  • setting up an ‘anti-trauma unit’ where children care for fallen chicks and feed them with fish

The future?

‘Development’ is a mixed blessing: ever since the coming of electricity to the village, birds have been electrocuted.  Will the birds and their guardians manage the hazards of ‘progress’ and offer a model  for the other areas where there is conflict between the human population and wildlife?

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