the following years, and it was in 1975 that a young scientist called PS Thakker met him in Hindolgadh in Rajkot’s Jasdan region. Thakker, who joined ISRO’s Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad that year, had already begun peeking at images beamed to earth by the Bhaskara satellite, observing the phenomenon through an eye in the sky. “In 1980, the water on the Rann rose quite high. Flamingos did not breed that year. Sindal Bet itself was almost covered by water,” he says, pulling up old images on a computer screen, recalling a site visit with fellow scientists in February 2004, where the six-member team counted 8,678 nests and 3,750 eggs. An estimated 67,000 flamingos fluttered shyly away and waited, en masse, in shallow waters nearby as the scientists surveyed their un-hatched young. It’s a sight that Thakker hasn’t forgotten.
In 1998, a cyclone struck the Gulf of Kutch. “Bhagashra near Navlakhi was completely red with the corpses of the birds. Flamingos abandoned the place and went elsewhere that year,” Thakker recalls. But all was not lost — that year, a young forest officer called Uday Vora discovered that the flamingos had found a new breeding site in the Little Rann of Kutch, a smaller salt desert further inland from the Great Rann. They have hung on to that new site ever since, and are reportedly also breeding, albeit in smaller numbers, at several other locations in between as well, although experts say none are as large as flamingo city.
But the threats to the avian metropolis remain — the National Board for Wildlife has been discussing the possibility of building a road that will run across the Great Rann, mostly to boost border security in this rough terrain. While the armed forces say the road can be built without disturbing the wildlife, including flamingos, the scientific community remains opposed to the idea. Their contention is that the road would effectively block the routes by which fresh and salt water mix up, devastating the ecosystem. As the debate goes on, the birds keep returning, responding to nature’s vagaries by altering their