Dr Asad Rafi Rahmani
Pili dam and reservoir (29.36303 N, 78.78609 E), located near Rehar village, in Afzalpur tehsil of Bijnor district, adjoins Amangarh Tiger Reserve of Uttar Pradesh. The catchment area at site is about 162 km2. The length of the bund is about 15 km. Amangarh is a part of buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve of Uttarakhand but falls in Uttar Pradesh. Amangarh has three major monsoon rivers – Dhana, Pili and Pheeka – and numerous ephemeral streams, that provide water to Pili reservoir. It is also supposed to be one of the longest earthen dams of Asia. The Pili Dam is a minor irrigation project that was completed in 1969. It irrigates about 1200 villages, mainly in Bijnor, Moradabad and Uddam Singh Nagar (in Uttrarakhand) districts. Pili Dam is also known as Rehar Dam. It is being filled up due to siltation and growth of vegetation. Many islands have come up in the last 20 years, most get inundated during monsoon but some have become permanent with good tree growth.
Ecological importance of Pili Reservoir
As only a bund separates Pili reservoir from the Amangarh Forest, a large number of wild animals use it for drinking purpose, particularly in summer when ephemeral water sources dry up. For example, in the summer of 2019, more than 200 wild elephants were seen using Pili reservoir. Mainly located in the terai, Amangarh has a high water level so good grass and green trees are available even during hot summer months, attracting many ungulates from the surrounding forests. The Forest Department has also built many waterholes and provide protection when the elephants arrive in Pili reservoir.
IBA: Based on the diversity and number of waterfowl, Amangarh and Pili reservoir have been identified as Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) of Uttar Pradesh in the revised book “Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas of India” (2016) by Bombay Natural History Society and BirdLife International (Rahmani et al. 2016).
Vegetation: Amangarh has dense Sal and mixed forests, including old eucalyptus and teak plantations.
Avifauna: BirdLife is quite rich in Amangarh and Pili reservoir. Amangarh has Critically Endangered Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris and White-rumped Vulture G. bengalensis. Redheaded Vulture Aegypius calvus is also frequently seen. All these vultures probably breed in the area although no work has been done to know their status (Rahmani et al. 2016). Owing to the diverse landscape and vegetation, this area supports great avifaunal diversity. Although no regular record of avifaunal diversity of Pili reservoir is maintained, sporadic sight records have revealed the presence of high avifaunal diversity. Its large water-spread attracts migratory and resident waterbirds. At the peak of winter, the waterfowl count touches more than 20,000 birds. During a bird survey by Wild Bird Protection Society in April 2011, 61 species were counted in and around Pili reservoir (Rahmani et al. 2016). The main species were Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda, Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala (more than 100 seen), and a variety of ducks and waders. A pair of Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus was noticed by Sanjay Kumar in 2013.
The following globally Red-List bird species in Amagarh and Pili reservoir:
Endangered: Black-bellied Tern, Greater Spotted Eagle
Vulnerable: Lesser Adjutant, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Sarus crane, Great Slaty Woodpecker (forest)
Near Threatened: Oriental Darter, Painted Stork, Black-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Ferruginous Pochard, Lesser Fish-eagle, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Great Pied Hornbill, River Lapwing, Great Thick-knee.
Unfortunately, detail work on avifauna has not been done in Amangarh and Pili reservoir. During my one-day visit on 1 February 2022, we could see a few thousand waterbirds. We were amazed to see thousands (>2,000) of Common Pochards Aythya ferina, recently uplisted by IUCN and BirdLife as Vulnerable. Possibly the largest number of this Vulnerable species seen anywhere in northern Uttar Pradesh. Common coot, Common Teal, Gadwell, and other ducks were scattered in small flocks.
Mammals: As it is a part of the larger Corbett landscape, most of the animals found in Corbett NP in Uttarakhand are also found in Amangarh Reserve Forest. Among the larger mammals, Tiger, Leopard, Asiatic Elephant, Sambar, Cheetal, Barking Deer or Indian Muntjac, Wild Boar, Sloth Bear, and Golden Jackal are noteworthy. During our visit, we found lots of elephant dung that proves that wild elephants regularly visit the reservoir for drinking and bathing purposes. We also saw herds of Cheetal. If good wet tall grass comes up on the edges of the reservoir, there are likelihood that we can introduce Hog Deer and Swamp Deer.
Problem and conservation issues:
Boating proposal: According to newspapers reports, there is a proposal to start boating and kayaking to attract tourists. If this is allowed, the birds will be disturbed and would leave the area. As the area is remote, lots of infrastructure will be developed for boating destination that will further deter wildlife. This boating proposal should be at once dropped. Instead, Pili Reservoir can become a major attraction for serious birdwatchers. Birdwatchers do not need elaborate infrastructures, only basic facilities of clean toilets and some place to rest, and may be a good restaurant. Locals can be trained as bird guides, thus providing livelihood to local people. The restaurant can be managed by local people, thus providing livelihood.
Fishing: This is another issue that needs to be tackled sensitively without disturbing the local communities and birds. Fishing contract is given by the government so it is not illegal. More than 30 specie s of commercial fish species are found in the reservoir. Cyprinid fishes (58%) are found to be the more dominant group than others. At present, the Pili Reservoir is a healthy water body providing a habitat for fresh water fishes of diverse type. However, there is constant threat to fish population due to eutrophication and illegal fishing activities (Nagma and Khan, 2015). Perhaps fishing can be curtailed in winter when migratory birds are present in large numbers, in time and space. This needs to be studied scientifically and socially to find a good solution, accepting to fishermen, local communities and conservationists.
Agriculture runoff: In a large part of the catchment of the reservoir, agriculture is practiced. In a study conducted on the fisheries and physio-chemical properties of the water, it has been found that Pili reservoir can be categorized as meso-eutrophic with rich amount of nutrients, which may be due to agricultural practices being undertaken by farmers in surrounding catchment area of this reservoir. This is another topic for proper scientific study before recommendations can be prepared.
Poaching: We were informed of small-scale poaching of birds and illegal fishing. However, considering the flight-distance of birds, we do not think that any large-scale shooting or trapping of ducks takes place. But this needs to be investigated properly.
Lack of infra-structure: The tourism zone of Amangarh is situated between Ramnagar and Kalagarh (Uttarakhand); north of it lies Jhirna tourism zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve. At present, there is no infra-structure for birdwatchers in Pili reservoir. Even the bund road is in bad condition. The Government can develop basic infrastructures facilities, after consultation with conservationists and local administrations. Perhaps a few birdwatching vantage points can be developed on the 15-km bund-road. An interpretation centre on the importance of wetlands can be developed at the start of the bund, with locally trained staff to manage the centre, under the supervision of the Forest Department.
Potential of Pili Reservoir
Thanks to its location in the Central Asian Flyway (CAF), and in the terai region, the Pili reservoir has a great potential to attract thousands of migratory birds. Even at present, more than 20,000 birds use the reservoir in a year, hence it is identified as an IBA, with proper protection and control on fishing, it can attract more birds. It already has more than 22 globally threatened and near threatened species (Rahmani et al. 2016).
Ramsar Site: Pili reservoir has a potential to be declared as a Ramsar Site as it fulfils many Ramsar criteria.
Top-class birding destination: With its easy accessibility from Delhi, Moradabad, Bijnor, Ramnagar and Corbett, Pili reservoir can become a good birdwatching destination. The long road on the 15-km bund is a good look-out point.
Amangarh Tiger Reserve: The U.P. Forest Department has already given a plan to declare Amangarh TR is a New Corbett Park and make it a tourist destination, on par with the Corbett TR. Pili reservoir can be a major additional attraction for tourists to the New Corbett NP in Uttar Pradesh.
Pili reservoir, adjoining Amangarh Tiger Reserve of Uttar Pradesh, has a great potential to become a birdwatchers’ paradise. It can become an added attraction to the Tiger Reserve, providing jobs to local people as tourist guides, instructors, homestay owners, etc. It can also become a field laboratory for environmental education. A proper scientific and social study is required to explore the potential of this future Ramsar Site. A good interpretation centre can be developed. Pili reservoir can be declared as a Wetland of International Importance, under the Ramsar Convention.