During one of his routine visits to the bird sanctuary along the reservoir of the Jayakwadi dam, the biggest irrigation project in Marathwada, early this month, ornithologist and wildlife expert Dr. Dillip Yardi was aghast to find five Coots (small water birds) lying dead on a mud patch.
“The birds had died due to contamination of the stagnant water,” says Dr. Yardi. The 339.79 sq km Nath Sagar reservoir of the dam is just a muddy pool now posing a grave threat to the existence of some 200 species of birds, most of them migratory, which flock to the area.
The drought in Marathwada has hit not just farmers and their livestock. Flora and fauna in the four major wildlife reserves and bird sanctuaries — Gautala sanctuary in Aurangabad (home to the endangered dhole or wild dog and leopards), Yedshi Ramling in Osmanabad, and the Naigaon peacock sanctuary in Beed, besides the Jayakwadi bird sanctuary — face devastation, say environmentalists and forest officials.
Chinkara, black buck and neelgai, grey hare, wild boars, wolves and jackals are found all over the eight districts of the region. The present drought has, however, left most of their watering holes dry. Dr. Yardi says the effects of successive years of poor rainfall have been felt since last year. “Every year, we start receiving the migratory birds from November 15. Last year, they skipped the date and came very late... by end November and early December. The excessive heat kept the cranes away and just 250-300 flamingoes turned up when normally ten times that number arrive every year,” he says. Not only birds, many of the prey species seem to have vanished too. “For example, the common Indian bull frog is not to be seen in the reservoirs. They seem to have perished in the rising heat in the stagnant water,” Dr. Yardi adds.
Read more: Marathwada: A land of dried up farms, dreams
Dr AR Mande, Chief Conservator of Forest, Marathwada region, admits that the wild life is under severe stress due to water scarcity. “We have constructed over 300 artificial waterholes in the region, apart from an equal number of natural watering holes. These are filled by tanker water,” he adds.
Already reports of many wild species straying into villages in search of water have been reported from several parts. “This will create a conflict situation as water will become more scarce in villages for cattle and other livestock,” says Mande. “When the water stock depletes further in the coming months, the big question will be whom should we prioritise, humans or animals,” says Mande.