Contrary to popular belief, India’s eastern coast has innumerable hidden charms that have an abundance of untouched beauty, enthralling origin stories and more to offer. This story in particular, takes us into the hinterlands of Odisha’s Mangalajodi village. Located by the popular Chilika Lake, this tiny village is home to some of the most exotic migratory bird species that are rare to find in other parts of the country.
The 150,000 odd fisherfolk who this lake and its offerings sustain have undergone a massive transition from being seasoned bird poachers to turning into dedicated bird conservationists over a few decades.
From Poaching to Conserving
Back n the 1950s, Mangalajodi was a hotspot for the trading of exotic bird meat and poaching of several endangered species. The locals would either sell their catch at local markets or export it to different cities and states where they could fetch a higher value for their produce. With a shift in the government of Odisha’s outlook towards tourism and environment conservation, officials stepped in and launched a transformative campaign that not only conserves the birds but also provides livelihood and employment opportunities to the communities living in the vicinity.
The lagoon currently hosts close to 200 species of birds, most of which are migratory. It is believed that birds emerge from regions as far as the Caspian sea, remote parts of Russia and the Himalayas. It is during the winters that nearly 12,000 birds migrate for a winter rendezvous with the local birds, making it an unmissable sight for tourists and even the locals who are still in the process of learning about the charming offerings of their homeland.
With the help of Wild Orissa, a local NGO, the officials were able to reach out to the community and offer substantial cultural and ethical arguments surrounding conservation which gradually led to a drastic shift in the attitude of its people. Slowly, bird poaching prevention acts came into being and even the active poachers were turned into die-hard conservationists.
This transformation has turned Mangalajodi into a must-visit for every bird and nature enthusiast in the country and beyond. Guided tours, birdwatching sessions, nature photography workshops and lakeside tours are some of the many offerings the village has today.
Mangalajodi could potentially be a model case study in how attitudes regarding environmental conservation can begin at a grassroots level. The success in this village could certainly guide a larger dialogue around the future of eco-tourism and conservation in the country.
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