An Inspiring Story of Birds Man, Bal Pandian
Koonthakulam Bird Sanctuary is close to the southern coast of Tamil Nadu. Kanyakumari, which is known for the congregation of water birds, is not very far from here. Interestingly, around 3000 birds nest there in the peak season. Above all, a man is standing as a soldier to protect them and devoting his life to them for over three decades. Bal Pandian has always been in love with water birds ever since he was a young boy who used to go fishing with his father.
Moreover, Bal Pandian belongs to a community where villagers are protective of nesting as a cultural thing. These people give importance to nesting and wintering waterbirds. They believe that these birds are the harbingers of good rain and atmosphere. Bali Pandian is a very cultural man, considering and honouring his family tradition, he gave another dimension to taking care of those birds.
In other words, he and his wife Vallithai Pandian devoted their lives to avian conservation. They started protecting birds against poaching and looking after the chicks that would often fall from nests because of storms or heavy winds etc. Most importantly, there was a time when they spent Rs.50,000 on the cause. Vallithai sold off her jewellery, especially her mangalsutra to collect this huge amount. She above all initiated a women’s club as well to collect the money.
They spent this huge amount on 63 young spot-billed pelicans, painted storks, open-bill storks, and darters
Bal Pandian, additionally, has helped many naturalists, filmmakers, and photographers who wanted to work with the birds. For example, many years ago, a famous ornithologist, Salim Ali visited the sanctuary and taught quite a lot of things to Pandians. Salim Ali was actually appointed there for a couple of research projects. Working at the sanctuary made him learn about several other birds that he didn’t know about before.
However, did you know that Ali even claimed that he was paid very less than he deserved for the task? Luckily, he was then appointed by the Forest Department to look after the sanctuary. Ali thus stayed at the sanctuary with Bal in care of the sanctuary and both won many awards over the years. Moreover, a famous filmmaker Suresh Elamon even made a video on him.
Pandian has gathered a thorough knowledge of the nesting, feeding, and behaviours of several species of birds. Moreover, he keeps a record of a daily diary of species, numbers, nesting, and other important things that he observes. His checklist contains 203 species. According to Pandian, Salim Ali had told him that black-winged stilt, spot-billed duck, comb duck, Kentish love, wood and pintail spines, and other such birds have no nesting. However, he has observed the nesting of all of these birds.
Furthermore, he also claims that about 500 to 1000 flamingos also visit the sanctuary in winter
Even the bareheaded geese take it as the southernmost point. Although Bal Pandian has kept the tradition of conservation, he is afraid of the younger generation. Because this generation’s attitude towards it speaks otherwise. Moreover, the government has also put very fewer effort into it. He further stated that he asked the supposed authority to develop community-based tourism, but got no response.
He believes that there are many houses in the village which could be integrated for homestays upon giving a bit of orientation to the residents. This, as a result, would provide a variety of experiences to the visitors and the villagers of course would also benefit from the income perspective. Sadly, in 2009, Vallithai Pandian passed away carrying a sense of sadness and pride within. On her death bed, she asked Bali’s promise to take care of the birds and spend the rest of his life devoted to the sanctuary. Her words had the clarity of narration of the love and dedication they have for the well-being of birds and conservation.
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