Drought hits India bird reserve
BBCNews.com, Jan. 4, 2007
The world-famous Bharatpur bird sanctuary in western India is facing a shortage of birds because of severe water scarcity, officials say.
Migratory birds visiting the area in Rajasthan state are down to only about 100 compared to some 10,000 last year.
The lack of water follows low rainfall. Officials say the situation is so dire that six new wells have been dug. With so little water, many migratory birds are not nesting and are flying back to their areas of origin.
Once the hunting ground of Indian royal families, the Bharatpur area is now one of the world's finest bird sanctuaries. It has more than 400 species of water birds, from as far afield as Afghanistan, Tibet and Central Asia.
There are Siberian cranes from the Arctic, and greylag geese from China have become a regular feature.
Last year, the birds made 2,000 nests but this time only a few have been seen.
The famous Siberian Crane, for example, was last sighted here in 2002.
All this is bad news for the large numbers of bird lovers from around the world who visit Bharatpur during the winter season.
Officials say that although the number of tourists has remained the same, many are leaving the sanctuary complaining that they have seen far fewer birds.
"I came here from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh and was disappointed when I found there were no birds. People will no longer come here if that remains the case," said one tourist Sudhir Rawat.
Last year, more than 100,000 visitors spent time at the national park, including 34,000 from outside India.
Now officials are trying to arrange for extra water from the Chambal River - which originates in the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh - through a pipeline network.
However, environmentalists say this will not solve the problem, because the birds are used to a natural flow of water which also supplies food.
State officials reserved water from the Panchna Dam for the sanctuary three years ago, but were forced to give up their plan because of protests by local farmers, who said that they needed the water for their crops.
The Bharatpur bird sanctuary, also known as the Keoladeo national park, was declared a national park in 1982 and a world heritage site in 1985.