Bharatpur: There is an air of despair among bird watchers and officials at the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary here.
The rains have played truant so far and the swamps are dry. Without aquatic life, that is food for the migratory birds, many of the winged visitors may not show up this winter, which is bad news for tourism.
Last year`s monsoon was good for the region, with more than 800 mm of rainfall recorded. But this year so far there has been only 96 mm of rainfall in the district.
Hotels outside the sanctuary are running almost empty now.
V Bansal, who owns a hotel near the sanctuary, said: "The sanctuary urgently needs water; otherwise the birds would lose interest, and this would naturally affect tourism. Thousands of bird watchers from all over the world come to Bharatpur."
Girish of Hotel Pratap Palace said: "We hope in the days to come the monsoon will smile on Bharatpur."
Anoop KR, the official in charge of the bird sanctuary, said: "The situation is grim, but we have seven bore-wells to provide water to the birds that are already here. However, natural water is essential."
According to Anoop, the birds nesting right now in the sanctuary are the Openbill Stork, egrets, Grey Heron, Black-necked stork and darters or snake birds.
Bird watcher Kushal said the Openbill Storks have returned to the sanctuary after a couple of years and are there in large numbers. But he fears if there is no water "they could go away somewhere else".
Chowkidars and watchmen said because of the lack of water in the wetlands, frogs and tortoises had disappeared. "But some rains in the coming days would bring them all back," he said sounding hopeful.
Bird lover KP Singh said: "Though there are half a dozen projects in the pipeline to bring in water, work has not begun on any of them."
Water is to be brought to the sanctuary from the Yamuna or Chambal river.
"The nearby Panchna and Ajan dams cannot meet the water requirements of the big sanctuary. You need lots of water to sustain aquatic life on which the birds feed."
The Rajasthan government is working on a project to arrange regular supply of water through a pipeline from a Yamuna canal.
"Water has to be brought from a canal of the Yamuna. But with hardly any water in the river in Delhi itself, how can we get water for the Bharatpur sanctuary?" Singh wondered.
Another problem is lack of greenery. The forest department had cleared large patches of Vilayati Babool (prosopis juliflora) shrubs last month to plant saplings of indigenous species.
"The long delay in the monsoon rains has dried up all the saplings and now you can see only barren wasteland all around," an official said.
Two years ago Unesco had threatened to de-recognise Keoladeo as a world heritage site as there was no water in the swamps. The threat again looms large.
The birds deprived of feed then had moved to Keitham wetlands near Agra and bird watchers stopped visiting Bharatpur. Officials hope the situation should not be like that this winter.
Bharatpur was declared a national park March 10, 1982, and accepted as a world heritage site in December 1985.
Though open round the year, the winter months are the best season to see the rare foreign birds. The migratory birds start leaving towards the end of February and early March as the temperature begins to rise.
In the winter, visitors to the park can see more than 300 species of birds, including various species of cranes, pelicans, geese, ducks, eagles, hawks, wagtails, warblers, flycatchers, the Coot Snipes, Spanish Sparrow, Red Crested Porhard, Rosy Pelican and flamingo. It is also best known for the rare sightings of the critically endangered Siberian Crane.
The sanctuary is also inhabited by sambar, chital, neelgai and wild boars.