Otter-Pelican conflict at Uppalapadu

Exclusive photos by Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar, former Chief Photographer, The Hindu, Vijayawada, Text by G Venkataramana Rao, former Deputy Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, AP.

Amaravati, March 14 :

The drinking water tanks of Uppalapadu village that have become a ecological hotspot for water fowls particularly the Spot-Billed Pelican (Pelecanus phillippensis) (also known as the Grey Pelican) have become a conflict zone for the birds and Smooth-Coated Otters (Lutrogale perspicillate) that made their appearance there is relatively large numbers quite recently. Uppalapadu is the heart of Amaravati area.

A group of Otters were documented killing a juvenile Pelican.The large birds are easy prey for the Otters considering their high population density. The Otters seem to have turned to juvenile birds as a source of food in the absence of fish. The aquatic mammals which are known to be in large numbers in the Krishna River have found their way to avian haven a couple of weeks ago and have since then become a big attraction. 

The village water tank has become a major attraction for bird lovers with thousands of water fowls thronging there all through the year, particularly the winter. 

Former honorary wildlife ward and authority on wetland avian fauna K Mruthyumjaya Rao was instrumental in developing the Uppalapadu Special Protection Zone for water fowls about two decades ago. Having noticed that the birds were returning to the village water tank every year for roosting Mr Rao prevailed on the residents not to drive the birds away and to protection from poachers and predators. 

He also explained to the Forest authorities the need to erect pedestals for the Pelicans to nest with great success. There was a sudden increase in the number water fowls after erection of metal stands.  The Forest officials replicated the stands at Attapaka in Kolluru Bird Sanctuary again with considerable success. The Forest officials claim the metal stands on which the large water fowls, pelicans roosted, protected the fledglings and juveniles from mammalian predators rats and bandicoots. In the absence of the stands the pelicans nested on thorny Prosopis juliflora (Thumma chettu) which offered the birds protection from primates, the humans in particular. 

Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS) founder and Conservation Status Survey of Smooth-coated Otters in Krishna Delta project lead Murthy Kantimahanti said that it was possible that the Smooth-Coated Otters have been around in Uppalapadu for a while but were not noticed. The animals were nocturnal — bask in the sun during day, hunt and forage during the night. A thorough study was necessary to resolve the conflict between the Otters and Pelicans, he said.

As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list of threatened species the Spot Billed Pelican was Near Threatened (NT) but the Smooth-Coated Otter which was in the Venerable (V) category was more endangered than the Pelican.

The Uppalapadu drinking water tanks offering refuge to species that are threatened indicate the high pressure there is on natural habitat of endangered fauna.

The otter holds a juvenile Pelican by the neck
Otters basking in the early morning sun

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