A unique initiative in involving one-time poachers to undertake wildlife conservation, Mangalajodi has attracted the attention of many people from far and wide. This experiment at Mangalajodi was recognized by the state government of Orissa when the Chief Minister of Orissa awarded the Pakhshi Bandhu Award to the Sri Mahavir Pakshi Surakshya Samiti of Mangalajodi during the wildlife week celebrations of 2001.
Wild Orissa helped in procuring small wooden boats, which are being utilised for patrols and monitoring, as well as by two erstwhile poachers for income generation. This second facet is worth noting, because, through only a small expenditure, these poachers-turned-conservationists could use these small boats for monitoring the bird breeding habitats as well as engage in fishing, which provided them with a certain amount of income. As per calculations, each such boat enabled a poacher to earn Rs 25 worth of fish per day, which comes to about Rs 9000 per year. This step therefore helped in bird conservation/preservation and was also a small step towards rehabilitating the people whose income had been impacted because of giving up hunting. Wild Orissa has also helped in attracting visitors to this area to enhance the income of the villagers through ecotourism. Additionally, relatives of the members of the bird protection committee have also been provided employment opportunities outside Orissa since 2006.
Memebers of Wild Orissa and the samiti are currently involved in wildlife awareness and education in local schools to sensitise children towards the birds that visit Chilika Lake.
Mangalajodi villagers now attach great importance to conserving and preserving Chilika as a waterfowl-breeding habitat. Along with the members of Wild Orissa, villagers have identified an area, locally called Mangalajodi Ghera (an area of Chilika Lake of about 1.5 sq km adjacent to the Mangalajodi village, and enclosed by the construction of an earthen embankment), as the area of prime importance for protection. This area retains water for much of the year, and the protection activities of the villagers has ensured that this site is safe for birds. Wild Orissa is helping the villagers in negotiations with the state wildlife wing as well as the irrigation department, to ensure that water after the rains is retained inside this closed embankment at least till the month of March every year. Part of this area is used by the villagers for agriculture; however, the villagers have resolved to use methods of agriculture that would not harm the birds.
The monitoring of this area has shown that in the dry months, the dried-up bed was being profusely used by the Oriental pratincole, red-wattled lapwing, yellow-wattled lapwing, etc. to breed; while during the monsoons months, the purple moorhen, Indian moorhen, bronzewinged jacana, pheasant-tailed jacana, common coot, water cock, spotbill, large whistling teal, etc. laid eggs in big numbers.
Participation in protection of birds and involvement with the local NGO has encouraged the local villagers and has also lead to self-belief and self-esteem. The members of the bird protection committee learnt the English names of the birds found in Chilika Lake. They already had immense traditional knowledge about the birds, their habitat and habits. Their knowledge helped the members of Wild Orissa in identifying some previously unknown nesting and breeding sites of many uncommon birds that visit Chilika. This information has been shared with the state wildlife department and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Information on the breeding habits of the following species of birds was obtained through their help: little cormorant, Indian cormorant, grey heron, purple heron, great egret, intermediate egret, little egret, cattle egret, heron, Indian pond heron, cinnamom bittern, black bittern, yellow bittern, night heron, painted stork, Asian openbill, lesser whistling teal, fulvous whistling teal, cotton pigmy goose, white-breasted waterhen and brown crake.
These activities have attracted the attention of many government departments towards Chilika Lake. Many government officials have visited Mangalajodi in recent times. Members of the bird protection committee take the visitors around the area. Certain rules and regulations have been laid down jointly by the protection committee and Wild Orissa to ensure that some areas remain inviolate and the number of people visiting does not exceed a certain number, so as to avoid excessive disturbance to the birds.