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The Stairway To A Fowl Haven

From a drought-stricken village to a bird sanctuary—a bunch of youngsters have it all figured out

The Stairway To A Fowl Haven
The Stairway To A Fowl Haven
Fifty kilometres from Pune, a somnolent village ravaged by three successive droughts stumps visitors with the sight of iridescent peacocks lending a dash of colour to the otherwise arid landscape. In fact, Chincholi Morachi has a unique 350-acre peacock sanctuary, an ode to the national bird which enjoys a special status in the village.

The entities responsible are ordinary people: the villagers, along with an ngo called Samwardhan. Founded in ’03, its objective is to rejuvenate the environment by managing wastelands, facilitating eco-tourism, nurturing sanctuaries, orienting and training people in eco-friendly rural development. What’s remarkable is that it is spearheaded by a dozen college students and young graduates between 17-25, and guided by ecology, botany and geology experts like Prakash Gole, Vijay Parnajpe and S.D. Mahajan, among others—all well known in Pune for their conservation work.

The Indian peacock (Pavo Cristatus), a bird deeply moored in mythology, would have been poached. But it’s not so in Chincholi Morachi. The 3,000-odd villagers would rather protect their feathered cohabitants. A good 70 per cent of the eggs hatch successfully here—a share known to perish in most peafowl habitats. The peacock population here has surged steadily from 800 birds in ’03 and is likely to double by the middle of ’05.

Despite the state government according the village a tourist status, little real development has ensued. The agrarian village, grappling with parched wells, was further inconvenienced by the birds feeding on the farms and riparian undergrowth. Yet, the villagers have nurtured the birds, helped occasionally by patrons who arranged for free water and grain. "The birds are the pride of our village," beams an ex-sarpanch.

Moved by the magnanimity of the villagers, Ramesh Shah, the 25-year-old co-founder-director of Samwardhan, a regular visitor to Chincholi Morachi, thought of remodelling the area into a peacock sanctuary to invite government aid and boost tourism.

The villagers also pitched in. Shivaji Nanekar, an enthusiastic farmer, even donated 25 acres for tourist dormitories, a nature interpretation centre and guided trails that Samwardhan plans to develop. Says Shah, "the terrain suggests this area was once under water." "Restoring the ecosystem is a key challenge."

To begin with, Samwardhan volunteers demarcated land, set peg-marks, undertook hedge plantation, created six shallow water bodies to stimulate wetland development, and converted wasteland into an abode for the otherwise struggling peacocks. The eventual ownership of the sanctuary will rest with a trust to be formed later this year with eco-experts and villagers.

Mobilising funds generated through nature excursions and charity events, Samwardhan has also developed eco-villages in Warasgaon and Dabhol in western Maharashtra and a private sanctuary along the Temghar backwaters. Even the preliminary expense of Rs 22,000 incurred on the Chincholi project was borne singularly by the youthful members of Samwardhan.

Also promoting handmade terracotta products and imparting pottery skills to the rural youth, Samwardhan now plans to establish a natural history museum in Pune.

Contact Samwardhan at: Parshwa Krupa, 812, Guruwar Peth, 6th floor, Sitadham Apartments, Pune-411042 Tel: (020) 24434993/9822976678. E-mail: samwardhan_forever@yahoo.com

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