In 2002, the highest number of painted storks (about 5000) came for breeding purposes to the lake. Two pelicans had also arrived then but they did not nest in the village. According to the villagers, during the last 10 years pelicans have stopped nesting in the village: they arrive at the beginning of the season (December-January), survey the place but do not breed. White ibises roost on the same trees during the night but they are not seen breeding in the vicinity.
Although the birds do not face any kind of threats from the host village, there are other threats faced by them:
• Due to heavy rains in the monsoons some of the chicks fall out of their nests.
• Indiscriminate hunting near Karnataka border, which is only 2 km away from the village, is a major cause for concern. In 2001-2, about 100 chicks starved to death as their parent birds did not return to the nests, probably killed by the poachers.
• There is a lack of nesting space as the old trees are dying.
• Large-scale fishing in the tanks in the vicinity is depriving the birds of stable feeding grounds.
• The tamarind trees in the village where the storks build their nests are being auctioned by the panchayat for fruit, and while harvesting the bidders cause disturbance to the birds.
• Heavy silting of the feeding tanks has resulted in less water storage, and the tank dries up before the breeding season ends.
• Some of the trees on which the birds build their nests are in private lands. The villagers have so far been able to convince the owners not to cut the trees despite their need; however, they feel that this is only a short-term solution.
However, the villagers’ efforts towards protection of birds have been recognized by a number of NGOs who have come forward to help the villagers. An NGO called PFA (People for Animals) from Bangalore is involved in nurturing the injured or orphaned chicks in a small temporary enclosure. An individual based in Puttaparthi in Anantapur district is also extending support to the young ones for their rehabilitation. Another NGO called Chaitanya, based in Lepakshi, offered a few thousand seedlings of tilapia fish to be released in Veerapuram tank during the last season as part of improving their feeding grounds. The Institute of Bird Studies and Natural History of Rishi Valley in Andhra Pradesh along with their staff and Mr. Ashish Pittie from Birdwatchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh planted five saplings in the village. They also facilitated villagers coming together and taking an oath for the conservation of the birds.
The Andhra Pradesh Government has initiated work for eco-tourism. The villagers, especially the youth, are enthusiastic and committed to conserving the birds. Six people from Kokkere Bellur (in Karnataka), another successful community-conserved heronry, visited Veerapuram last year and suggested to the local villagers that they could use the large quantity of bird droppings lying under the trees as manure for their agricultural lands. However, the villagers did not do this as they feel that scraping off the waste from under the trees might expose the roots and ultimately result in the death of the trees. Villagers are currently considering setting up a rehabilitation center for the rescued birds in an old community building in the village.
The villagers have resolved to seal off the sluice gate of the tank for the last seven years to make fish available to the birds during the season. They also opined that auctioning of tanks for fishing should be banned in the entire revenue village for this purpose.