Wetlands in Andhra Pradesh, especially coastal zones, support abundant biodiversity. These are typically marshes and estuaries where VSPCA bird protection is concerned.

For human living, they are truly ecologically economic—as foundations for regional growth—producing fishery products, fostering aquaculture, absorbing pollutants, serving as significant carbon sinks, and importantly as ecological barriers against extreme weather events, enabling tourism and recreation, providing foraging, spawning and nursery sites for fish species before they migrate to the sea and reefs, and providing refuel sites for millions of migrating birds.  Salt marshes and seagrasses offer food to thousands of marine and riverine species.

The Project

Geographic Location: Migratory Birds and Wetlands of Andhra Pradesh

In late nineties, news of illegal hunting and poaching of majestic migratory birds like Painted Storks, Open-billed Storks, and Spot-billed Pelicans troubled species and habitat conversationist Pradeep Kumar Nath of the VSPCA.

As migratory birds are seasonal flyers, those who could prevent their poaching and decline in large numbers, turned a blind eye. The atrocities piled on—increasing the harm caused to the birds due to: herbicides, pesticides, synthetics, plastics, and many varieties of pathogens and parasites—emerging from the entanglements of human activities. In 2000,

VSPCA invited its supporters from the USA, to visit and prepare a plan to inventory, treat, and protect these helpful visitors to Telikunchi and Tekkali.  

VSPCA began studying migratory bird behavior, nesting habits, environmental and poaching threats, and habitat in 1999 – all the way from Kolleru Lake to Telikunchi in North Andhra Pradesh. They made sure to include local birds while keeping watch on the ecological relationships of marine creatures here in their plans, to protect wetlands habitats of this region. Local communities’ beliefs about the birds bringing good fortune, peace, and prosperity, made VSPCA’s tactics conducive to migratory bird and wetland habitat protection. Several species of pelicans and storks, black ducklings, and cormorants among others come to nest over 7000 acres of land dotted by many lakes, estuaries, and Tamarind trees. They increase the biodiversity of this region with their arrival. The birds fly in an amazing “arrowhead formation’ with a strong homing instinct to pick the same region, village, and often, the same tree to nest.  The marsh vegetation provides crucial nesting material for them. The friendly reception by village residents ensures their arrival every year. Unfortunately, their arrival has put these places on tourist maps that do not provide any measures for bird protection. VSPCA’s involvement has been timely.

Prominent species who are regular visitors to this region are:

Seven species of Pelicans come away from the much colder Eurasian countries and Siberia, it is understood.  Scientists claim they come from Germany, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Siberia, and Hungary. However, these fact needs to be checked. 

As President of VSPCA USA, I met Vishveshwara Rao, the person responsible for the birds in 2019 at the Telineelapuram Bird Sanctuary. In early October, he had counted 280 grey-spotted pelicans on 12 trees and 18 painted storks on 2 trees. We talked about the species of birds he was documenting, their behaviors, and the slow degradation of their habitat here.

He said by December, at least 60% of the birds here would be pelicans. The marshlands here have small fishes for them and with their large built-in sleeve in the lower beak, they strain the water to toss the remaining fish into their mouth.  They can make their nests in tiny spaces given a chance. At Kolleru Lake, South Andhra, authorities have created structures to support these birds.

Six species of Painted Storks get their name from the pink on their feathers.  

By September, they begin showing up at Telineelapuram. They nest, lay eggs, and have their chicks here.  By March the following year, they make their return journey when their chicks can fly long distances.

Asian Open-Billed Storks are opined to travel from Siberia. They start their breeding earlier than most migratory birds, in July.  They return to their home country by November.  They make their nesting grounds in Telikunchi, few kilometers north from Telineelapuram. From April to August, VSPCA has observed ~ 10,000 Asian Open-billed Storks arrive in Telekunchi, Tekkali Mandal, Srikakulam District. Nath visited these birds in 2015 and witnessed challenges faced by these smaller, grey-colored birds, feeding mostly on river snails.

Brahminy Ducks also called Ruddy Shelducks, are found in smaller numbers behind the airport in the Wetlands. With their orange feathers and black tails, they are a marvel to see as they paddle in the lakes of the marshes. They are assumed to fly in from central and southeast Asia and southeastern Europe. 

Hoopees belong to the Woodpecker family of birds. They are strong birds who can fly across the Himalayas. They are generally seen with the other migratory birds at VUDA Park, Karthikavanam, and Sagarnagar.

Black-winged Stilts are seen in the three to four hundreds, also near the airports surrounded by wetlands. These birds are a photographer’s delight.  They love to eat insects and crustaceans.

The civet and monkeys are the birds’ natural predators among poacher humans. 

Besides the predators, the birds face many threats. Each bird lays around 4-6 eggs.

At Tekkali, Srikakulam District, Nath observed the migration route leading to the villages of Telineelapuram and Gopalapuram. Here, from September to March, these vulnerable birds find sanctuary, feasting on the bountiful snails and other delicacies provided by the meeting of rivers and salt marshes with the Bay of Bengal’s estuarine wetlands. Wetlands are important to farmers and fishers alike; yet, not everyone recognizes migratory birds as harbingers of seasonal biodiversity helping sustain food and soil ecosystems for all. Howeve r, for the villagers of Telineelapuram, the Yerra Javidi Pitta (painted stork) and the Gooda Bathu (pelican) were the first signs that the year was going to be a good one. Farmers shared that in 1985, when the worst drought hit this region, no birds were seen in the skies or on the trees in this region. Besides their food in the salt marshes, the birds build their nests on tiny resting spots on the Tamarind, Bamboo, and Prosopis juliflora (mesquite-ironwood) trees that grow here but have been cut down in large numbers over time.  In Telineelapuram, VSPCA observed that in 2000, 319 bird nests were on the trees here. The next year, they were down slightly to 313, and by 2002, they numbered a mere 25! 

The migratory birds and 43 Indian bird species made this area an international hotspot attracting researchers and enthusiasts alike as VSPCA began its education campaigns for the birds.

Threats from Poaching

From 1999 to 2010, Nath tirelessly ran education campaigns to raise awareness about migratory birds in nine surrounding villages, educating locals about the legalities and consequences of bird hunting. Many village residents, farmers and fishers, were aware that the birds are symbols of good fortune for them. They embraced and supported VSPCA’s campaigns to protect them.

In 2002, VSPCA alone documented 1340 spot-billed pelicans, painted and open-billed storks, and adjudant storks in the areas of Kolleru Lake at West Godavari, Pulicat and Nelapatu regions of Nellore, and Kondakarla and Pudimadaka in Visakhapatnam. There was no doubt these birds were trying to survive on suitable habitats along this coastline. 

Poaching had begun to increase in 2002. VSPCA had to quickly tailor their approach to education and awareness as bad actors were growing in great numbers.  Poachers used guns and nets on trees and the ground to shoot or trap the birds, who were easy targets not having known this kind of onslaught in early century before.

Unfortunately, the nearest police and forest departments were 70 kms away for the village of Telineelapuram to be able file their complaints against the poachers and get the authorities to take action.  The birds’ flesh and eggs were sold at Rs. 200-500 a bird. 

The education campaigns were conducted on foot, at schools, and through newspaper articles.

Public and Visible Demands for Migratory Bird Sanctuaries

Nath at this juncture, began demanding that migratory bird sanctuaries be set up at Telikunchi and Telineelapuram to aid VSPCA’s plan and education campaigns in support of the interspecies co-existence between these amazing visitors and the native peoples.   

VSPCA began wide outreach for the protection of these migratory birds:

Political and Socio-Cultural Ecology

There have been talks of creating bird sanctuaries for these birds on account of VSPCA’s demands, but the projects have not broken ground.

Nath expressed great disappointment when the Forest Department decided on (and built) a watch tower for Rs. 7 Lakhs in Telineelapuram, which did nothing really to solve the birds’ plight. 

It added to the birds’ woes—tourists wanting to see and touch these impressionable birds—as they sat on the sparse Tamarind trees, which the watch tower made somewhat conducive to do.

These birds are large and can easily be reached. Based on experience, they are also rather trusting of humans.

To add salt to the wound, the Forest Department’s tower has visitors leaving behind filth and debris. Often the birds’ nests are seen filled with plastic and garbage.

Nath and VSPCA took on this ‘by-product’ of the partial sanctuary in the guise of the tower, to rectify the situation, handing over monitoring responsibilities to a joint committee. This was part of a larger effort concerning the wetlands around Kolluru Lake; however, Telineelapuram got protection as a “biodiversity heritage site.” (See Below)

As Nath and the VSPCA team built trust with the villagers through their consistent efforts to protect their deeply “interconnected” and “sacred” habitats ( (Osceola, 2024), they learned that the farmers think of these birds as deities (“devatha pakshulu”), while fishers see them as relatives/kin fishers. The birds and people had developed a close, symbiotic relationship with each other over several generations. Fishers literally have to move the birds aside to get to their fishing nets while at sea. They are always “fishing together.”  VSPCA team members learned that the painted storks and the villagers moved away together from Paradip storm damage in 1999. When the village people came back to rebuild their homes, the birds came back with them. In several statements, the birds fly to their homes from the trees crying for help when poachers are around.

Interspecies coexistence between the birds and people is taken seriously by VSPCA, and understood in human and nonhuman cultural contexts.

Amidst all of the ongoing work by VSPCA for the birds, climate shifts started to become increasingly perilous for this region.  In 2004, over 3500 birds died north of Andhra Pradesh because of the earthquake in the Indian Ocean near Sumatra. Waves and winds took the birds down. In addition to poaching, there was more work cut out for VSPCA.

The storms have only increased in frequency and intensity over the years.

ß  Just like in 2004, the second decade in this century proved to be much more intense to handle with Phailin[1] and Hud Hud[2] storm systems that caused the deaths of many birds who simply could not withstand the 115-130 mph winds. 

In 2012 and 2013, super cyclone Phailin caused immense problems for the birds, their nesting sites, and their babies. It was followed by Hud Hud, which made the birds’ journeys to this region, perilous.  VSPCA and Nath were caught having to rescue and rehabilitate the birds with little help from authorities. They frantically called vets from abroad and Delhi to join them in picking up the large, injured birds, treating them effectively to release them in their nesting ground once healthy.

Nath and his team worked round the clock to protect the fallen birds and their chicks.  Many had to be transported to VSPCA’s Kindness Farm, to nurture them to adulthood and attempt to release them back into the flock in the following years. Despite many odds, Nath and his team sprang into action, rescuing nearly 2000 injured birds. With makeshift shelters and relentless effort, they nursed the storks back to health, ensuring 90% could fly again.

Initially, their numbers dwindled to below 800 in the following year, but with dedicated protection efforts, their populations have doubled in late 2010s.

The stork flying out of the window is one of thousands that was able to fly after treatment, warmth, and feed.  Each one was rubbed in dry cloth and kept in dry hay and looked after until they were able to stand and then fly. 

The aftermath of these storms did not bode well for the Telineelapuram “bird sanctuary” (where the watchtower is situated).

The Thermal Power Plant

To add to the woes of the villagers and birds, by 2007, talks began on building a thermal power plant by the East Coast Energy Private Limited (ECEPL) in Karakapalle village at Bhavanapadu beach and creek, near the sensitive migratory bird congregations at the Naupada swamps in Srikakulam district. With VSPCA’s support, this decision by the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (AP PCB) was challenged by the Advisor of the Forum for Sustainable Development, Captain J. Rama Rao, and supported by the Union Secretary, IAS Officer, Mr. E. A. S. Sarma, who asked that the recommendations of the project Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be followed, and no action taken until AP High Court looked into the matter. The Salim Ali Center for Ornithology (SACON) and Natural History along with the Bombay Natural History Society were engaged by ECEPL to prepare the environmental impacts “if any” and the Andhra University was asked to study the plant’s impacts on marine life. 

The project sadly won out leveling the grounds that birds came to. The ECEPL acquired 2050 acres and spent about 1400 crores on the project, even creating a 65 crores-worth ditch around the plant. The SACON had identified over 121 species of migratory birds here, which included six stork species and seven species of pelicans. 

The plans to bring in the power plant by ECEPL was protested strongly by VSPCA and many impacted village people.  Two villagers died in the protests at the hands of the police.  Over two years, VSPCA put in effort to stall the plans until it became the responsibility of the Advisory Forum and the Union Secretary.  However, the project did manage to get past with the mitigations required of the developers in the EIR. 




The birds were now facing several threats in this century—poaching, the changing climate, and the thermal power plant obstructing their nesting grounds.  However, VSPCA had amazing allies in the village people in this region, who believed in the importance of the birds and the habitat that they share with them. It remains a secret that the residents here killed a poacher. VSPCA continued their education campaigns onward strongly to save as many birds as possible from direct threats in the interim.

In the last 5 decades, Nath has witnessed over 60 cyclones and an average of 6 cyclone-causing depressions that have produced incessant rains in this region. There has been at least one super cyclone every year. The Hud Hud caused much devastation in the Telineelapuram region but seemed to spare Telikunchi somewhat.

Sadly, this does not mean that water is available around the year. The cyclonic seasons are followed by intense periods of drought. The Times City Article of 2015 speaks to the lack of drinking water at Telineelapuram. Protecting the birds and ensuring their habitats are sustained is crucial for farmers and fishers of this region.

Nath continued to do surveys on the birds year by year. His team members took turns doing so.  

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