Kawar (Kabar) Lake Wildlife Sanctuary

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
Kawar (Kabar) Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, also a Ramsar Site, is the largest freshwater lake in northern Bihar. It is a residual oxbow lake formed by the changing course of the River Gandak, a tributary of the Ganga. In years of average rainfall, the Kawar Lake joins with the nearby Nagri Lake, Bikrampur Chaur and Burhi Gandak, a tributary of the River Ganga, to form a lake of about 7,400 ha. By late summer, however, the water is confined to the deeper areas of only c. 200 to 300 ha. As the water level recedes, over 2,400 ha of the exposed mudflats are converted into paddy fields. There is a permanent island (Jaimanglagarh) of about 130 ha in the southeast corner of the lake. Kawar Lake experiences tropical monsoon climate typical of the middle Gangetic plain. The lake supports a rich and diverse aquatic flora. Submerged macrophytes include Hydrilla verticillata, Potamogeton crispus and Najas minor. Emergent macrophytes include Oryza sativa and Ipomea aquatica (Anon. 1993).

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: The lake is eutrophic, sustaining rich plant and animal life, and teeming with waterfowl (George 1964). Kawar is one of the most important wetlands for waterfowl in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. It supports huge numbers of migratory ducks and Coot Fulica atra through the winter, as well as large concentrations of resident species such as Dabchick Tachybaptus ruficollis and Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans. The Near Threatened Oriental White Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, Ferruginous Pochard Aythyca nyroca and Rufous-vented Prinia Prinia burnesii are also found (Arvind Mishra pers. comm. 2001). About 26 species of birds including Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla, Fantail Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Ruff Philomachus pugnax and Greyheaded Lapwing Vanellus cinereus were ringed here during a BNHS bird ringing camp (Anon. 2002). It is difficult to estimate the number of waterfowl found in Kawar as no systematic study has been conducted but certainly, every year, more than 20,000 waterbirds are found here, thus fulfilling A4iii criteria of BirdLife International (undated). It is likely that totally about a hundred thousand birds still visit this site. To give an idea of the number of birds that used to visit this site, S. P. Shahi estimated that about 70,000 birds were trapped every year till early 1980s. Manjhol town was a major bird market and a center for distribution to other areas. Since the declaration of the Sanctuary in 1989, bird trapping has reduced considerably but has been replaced by poisoning instead.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Over 29 species of commercially valuable fish have been recorded from the lake. The edible mollusc Pila globosa is abundant, the main food of the Asian Openbill.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Agricultural intensification and expansion; Drainage of wetland; Grazing of livestock; Poaching; Invasion by exotic species; Pollution.

The lake is very important for fisheries. Inhabitants of about 15 villages around the lake depend on the wetland resources for their livelihood. Duck trapping was a major occupation of many villagers. Shahi (1982) estimated that 70,000 ducks, coot and other waterfowl were netted and sold in the winter of 1981-82. Now trapping on this scale has been stopped but has been replaced by poisoning of waterfowl. It is a common sight to see dead and wounded fish on the water surface along with the dead birds (Mehboob Alam pers. comm. 2003). Demands for water for irrigation are increasing, the lake is over fished and the aquatic vegetation is heavily grazed by domestic livestock. The lake is also infested with Eichhornia crassipes and contaminated with run-off of pesticides and fertilizers used by farmers. The major issue at Kawar is the dispute between the politicians and landlords, and the fishermen, local people and NGOs. A few powerful politicians and the landlords are putting pressure on the Government to convert the wetland into agricultural land by draining out the lake. They discourage efforts towards clearing the lake of the vegetation that is choking it and threatening its existence. However, villagers use the emergent weeds as fodder or thatching of houses. The Development Fund allotted by the Central Government is lying with the State Government for many years, but there has been little development of the Sanctuary. Due to land disputes the officials do not even know the true ownership of the land in the Sanctuary.

Key contributors: Arvind Mishra, Ali Hussain and Mehboob Alam.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kawar (Kabar) Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 20/05/2022.