Agra: Environmentalists have hailed the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to declare Agra's Soor Sarovar (Keetham lake) as a Ramsar site.
Home to hundreds of bird species, migratory and locals, reptiles including more than 300 pythons, scores of species of fish, Keetham lake was declared a bird sanctuary in 1991 and renamed as the Soor Sarovar after the blind bard of Braj, Bhasha Soor Das.
Situated along the Yamuna bank, on the Agra-Delhi highway (NH 2), the site also has the famous sloth bear shelter home and a hospital for elephants run by Wildlife SOS.
Environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya said: "We have been struggling for long years to protect from encroachers the eco-sensitive zone around Soor Sarovar. The delayed recognition of the bird sanctuary as a Ramsar wetland site will definitely help conserve the rich flora and fauna of the area and perhaps promote eco-tourism. The need is to firmly demolish all illegal structures in the vicinity of the sprawling lake."
Bird watcher K.P. Singh said, "This is a sensible decision. The Keetham wetland is rich in natural resources and attracts a large number of migratory birds. Action should be taken to ensure that the lake gets only treated non-polluted water from the Agra Canal. Also, there is a need for desilting the lake to clear the pollutants."
Agra now has four internationally recognised tourist attractions.
"We have three world heritage monuments and now a fourth Ramsar site which has the potential to develop as a popular tourist site. The Soor Sarovar area, has several mythological sites, including Shani Dev temple, Bhagwan Parshuram temple, and of course, it is the Sadhna Sthali of the eminent poet of the Bhakti movement," added Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
The Soor Sarovar bird sanctuary covers an area of 7.97 sq km, while the lake is spread over 2.25 sq km with a depth ranging from four to eight metres. The state forest department has not changed the wilderness of the woods that attracts both birds and reptiles in large numbers.
The biggest Bear Rescue Centre is also a major draw for animal lovers.