Bonelli’s eagle sighted for the first time in Telangana, along the Krishna river in the Amrabad Tiger Reserve

Published : March 18, 2021 13:53 IST

Bonelli's eagle nesting in Manikunnumala near Wayanad in Kerala.

In a sighting as rare as it was heart-warming, officials of the Telangana Forest Department have, for the first time, recorded the presence of a Bonelli’s eagle, a rare bird of prey, in the towering cliffs that line the Krishna river as it winds through the Amrabad Tiger Reserve in the Nallamala hills of Telangana. According to the officials, the sighting of the raptor, which is also called crestless hawk-eagle, was the first documentation of a Bonelli’s eagle in the two Telugu States.

Speaking to Frontline, officials from the Achampet Division disclosed that not only have they been able to identify the nesting spot, a nest built with sticks and twigs atop a remote cliff, but also observe the presence of two parent birds and two chicks. They said the chicks were old enough to start flying on their own. The adult pair were first sighted almost six weeks ago. Foresters and environmentalists attribute the sighting of the Bonelli’s eagle in the Amrabad Tiger Reserve to both the sustained afforestation and conservation efforts and the presence of a protected habitat with a good prey base.

The Bonelli’s eagle is usually found in hilly or mountainous habitats with rocky walls and wooded land. In India, it is mostly found in the Chambal ravines, the Ranthambore National Park, the Chir zone of the lower Kumaun Himalayas and, during the winter months, in the Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur, Rajasthan. It preys on medium-sized birds such as the turkey, chicken, quail, pigeon, small mammals such as the hare and reptiles, frogs, insects and, occasionally, even on carrion. The breeding season is from November to September in India.

Said Kista Goud, District Forest Officer in Telangana’s Nagarkurnool district (almost 90 per cent of the Amrabad Tiger Reserve is located within Nagarkurnool district): “The abundant presence of grey francolins (quails) in the Nallamalla forest area is a boon to raptors such as the Bonelli’s eagle. These grey francolins cannot be domesticated and are in a protected area. Thanks to the construction of dams across the Krishna such as the Nagarjunasagar, water is also available in plenty throughout the year in the river. Given this scenario, the grey francolin numbers have increased. Since the prey is there, the eagle is coming back.” He added that species such as the crested serpent eagle and other raptors are also beginning to be seen in the region. “But the Bonelli’s is a rare one. We are very excited and encouraged,” he said.

The river Krishna flows for about 200 km from Nagarjunasagar to Somasilla through the Amrabad Tiger Reserve, forming a natural boundary between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. According to Goud, the Forest Department is exploring the interiors of the Nallamalla forest range and the Amrabad Tiger Reserve along the Krishna river to identify endangered species. Said Kista Goud: “We have recently found the presence of vultures inside the Khollapur area. Previously, they were known to be present only in the Mannanuru area. Although we have sighted the vultures, we are yet to find their nesting places. We are also looking for the nesting places of other birds on the cliffs, which are at an elevation of 100-200 metres.” Nesting, he explained, was an indication of a higher chance of the bird population increasing.

According to personnel from the Forest Department, a number of measures, including the sinking of solar borewells to help ensure perennial sources of water and relocating some villages and converting the lands into grasslands will go a long way in ensuring that animals and birds are not disturbed inside the Nallamalla forest areas and the Amrabad Tiger Reserve (2.5 lakh hectares), which is the fourth largest in terms of size in India. Said Kista Goud: “These measures will support the herbivore population, which in turn will support the carnivore population. At present, we estimate that there are around 20 tigers in the Amrabad Tiger Reserve.” He is optimistic that the number will go up to 24 by the time of the next tiger census, which is scheduled for 2022.

He also disclosed that the Forest Department’s programme to release the Indian Spotted Chevrotain, or the Indian Mouse Deer, the highly nocturnal and the smallest of ungulates, into the Ambrabad Tiger Reserve from the soft-release facility was going on as planned. The released population of deer was being monitored through camera-trap surveys and molecular identifications. The primary aim of the Indian mouse deer conservation breeding programme, which was launched a decade ago by conservationists from the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad and researchers from the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES)-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), was, among other things, to improve biodiversity.