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NAGAPATTINAM: The sprawling 1,726 hectare Point Calimere bird sanctuary near Kodiyakkarai in Nagapattinam district escaped the wrath of the tsunami in 2004, but could not get away from the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Gaja ,which made landfall on Saturday near the sanctuary.

In the aftermath, the ‘energy feeding house’ for birds was left ravaged and the congregation of avian visitors were forced to take flight.

Though November is the migratory birds, with numbers reaching lakhs, ornithologists said that in the days following the disaster the number of birds in the sanctuary had drastically come down.

Attracting as many as 234 bird species, including flamingos, painted storks, and spoonbills between November and February, Point Calimere sanctuary with its swampy lands serve as feeding ground for winged visitors from the Arctic, European, and West Asian countries to sustain their intercontinental voyage till Australia.

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Post landfall, an inspection of the sanctuary showed that a significant number of trees were uprooted and the canopy destroyed. “Despite being the season to spot at least 10,000 migratory birds, we could not find any flamingos and seagulls in Point Calimere. Except for the few sea shorebirds, migratory birds have abandoned the sanctuary after the cyclone,” said S Balachandran, deputy director of Bombay Natural History Society after a visit to the sanctuary.

After more than 25 carcasses of deer, birds, horses, and wild boars most likely from Point Calimere washed ashore in Karaikal recently, birdwatchers expressed concerns about the condition of Point Calimere sanctuary which has been closed since last week.

While the forest department maintains that only 7 to 8 deer have perished in the disaster, the ornithologist believes mortality could be more.

But it’s not just this season, the shock of the cyclone could be felt next year as well as the sudden adverse weather phenomenon. The migratory birds must have felt threatened and it could affect their route next year as well, said Balachandran. “Even during 2004 tsunami, we did not witness such habitat loss as we see after Cyclone Gaja. I have been visiting the sanctuary for 35 years, but have never seen such a low number of migratory birds at Point Calimere,” he said.

“Gaja has caused unimaginable damage to the sanctuary. A lot of trees have been lost, properties of forest department inside the sanctuary also have been devastated, but we are not sure about the mortality,” said a source in forest department.

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