Harike Lake Bird Sanctuary

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
Harike Lake is a shallow water storage reservoir created by the construction of a barrage at Harike in 1952, at the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas rivers. It covers an area of approximately 14,800 ha in the open water. About 33 islands are scattered throughout the lake. The water depth varies from 1.2 m to 4.2 m. More than 50% of the water area is thickly covered by Water Hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes. The lake is surrounded by agricultural land and is the main source of water for the Indira Gandhi (Rajasthan) Canal. The lake is triangular in shape, with its apex in the west, a bund called Dhussi Bund forming one side, a canal the second and a major road the third. Harike lake is a vital source of fish to Punjab (WWF, undated). The National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has identified Harike Lake as one of the wetlands for special conservation action and management. This artificial water body is heavily infested with Water Hyacinth that forms floating islets throughout the lake. Thick stands of Typha are found at the margins. The embankments have been planted with Dalbergia sissoo, Acacia nilotica, Zizyphus, Ficus and Prosopis chilensis.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Harike Lake was designated as a Ramsar site on account of its importance as habitat for large number and diversity of waterfowl (Ladhar et al. 1994). The lake is an important staging and wintering area for migratory waterfowl. Over 20,000 ducks have been counted at the peak of the migratory season. Flocks of 2-3 thousands Redcrested Pochard Rhodonessa rufina, Common Pochard Aythya ferina and Tufted Pochard Aythya fuligula are not uncommon. A study conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (1980-85) recorded 167 species of resident and migratory birds. Scaup Duck Aythya marila, Falcated Teal Anas falcata and the globally threatened White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala have been reported. The updated list (Harvey, 2002) consists of 358 species, including some very old records such as the Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax that has not been seen in India for the last five decades or more. The open water zone is very important for Near Threatened Darter Anhinga melanogaster. More than 100 have been counted in some years (Prakash, et al. 1997). The Wetlands International (2002) calculate that its population in South Asia would be about 4,000 and declining. Its 1% biogeographic population threshold is 40. It number in Harike is more than 2% of its population. Similarly, many ducks are seen in more than 1% population threshold at Harike. Therefore, this site also qualifies A4i criteria, i.e. the site is known to or thought to hold, on a regular basis, =1% of a biogeographic population of a congregatory waterbird species (BirdLife International, undated).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Sinha (1997) reported 16 mammalian species from this IBA site out of which the Smooth Indian Otter Lutra perspicillata requires conservation measure. Other mammals present at the site include Jungle Cat Felis chaus, Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Wild Boar Sus scrofa, and Common Mongoose Herpestes edwardsi. Fresh water turtles include Kachuga tecta and Lissemys punctata andersoni. About 26 species of fish have been recorded from the lake.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Invasive species (Water Hyacinth); Siltation; Poaching.

The lake is infested with the invasive Water Hyacinth. Over 50% of the lake surface area is now covered with weeds. Eradication has been attempted but without success, as fresh infestation takes place from upstream. Another major problem is of siltation. The problem of soil erosion is acute in the catchment area causing the lake to silt up rapidly. The area of open water has reduced from 4,100 ha to 2,800 ha due to siltation and encroachment. Urban and industrial development in the vicinity of the lake and along its feeder streams is polluting the lake water. Most of the catchment area is under cultivation, and use of fertilizers and pesticides is contributing to the pollution load in the lake. The entire lake is auctioned on contract annually for commercial fishing and supports a major fishery. Birds are disturbed day and night. Gill nets used by the fishermen have been shown to cause mortality in ducks. Cattle graze the areas around the lake. Local people mainly for agriculture purpose are encroaching upon the main lake area. Simultaneously, poaching of wildfowl in the lake has also increased dramatically. Various methods are used to trap and/or kill the birds. These include blinding of the bird with powerful searchlights and then clubbing them with a stick (lathi). The tubers that the ducks eat are poisoned with the help of Furatex, a common pesticide, and others use shotguns with their barrels sawn off. The Centre sponsored a pilot project for the setting up of a special ecological task force of ex-servicemen to cleanse and manage the Harike Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. The Territorial Army was also involved in the process. The package was approved during a meeting in year 2001 between the Punjab Chief Minister and Central leaders. Under this, the army had launched a pilot project ‘Project Sahyog’ to check the degradation of the Harike Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.

Key contributors: Bill Harvey, Satnam Singh Ladhar and Prakash Rao..

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Harike Lake Bird Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 08/08/2022.