Delhi has a population of over 17 million and yet is home to over 400 species of birds. Several resident species of birds like pigeons, parakeets, fly-catchers, owlets, kites, Egyptian vultures are found all across the city. Of these parakeets, pigeons and raptors can be commonly found even in a comparatively densely populated urban area. Besides being exquisitely beautiful in their own right, each bird occupies an important place in the ecology of this urban landscape.
Raptors or ‘birds of prey’ are one of nature’s best adapted scavengers. Though most raptors are opportunistic hunters, some like vultures and kites are scavengers, and feed on carcasses thereby preventing it from rotting and becoming breeding grounds for disease-causing pathogens. Delhi and the areas neighbouring it have a healthy population of kites as well as Egyptian vultures.
Though the threats to urban birdlife are many, a single major threat in Delhi revolves around the tradition of ‘kite flying’. Delhi has an age old tradition of paper kite flying also known as ‘patang baazi’ where the skies are filled with thousands of paper kites. People attach powdered glass, metal coated and nylon strings called ‘manjha’ to the kites to help them break others’ kite strings while competing with them.The sharp threads are highly dangerous for birds in flight as they injure them while in flight, to the extent of cutting through flesh and even bone at times. In some cases, the injuries prevent the bird from flying thus permanently disabling it, and in other cases, the manjha can cause death instantaneously.
Although there are a few extremely efficient and dedicated bird rescue professionals at work, day in and day out to tend to the birds, the sheer numbers of injured birds makes it difficult for each bird to be given due care and attention while it recovers. In the month of August alone, there were around 250 cases of raptor injuries tended to by bird rescue teams in Delhi. This does not count another 60 odd cases of other birds like pigeons and egrets who also sustained kite-string injuries.
This RAP supported a bird relief and rescue hospital in Old Delhi. A 24 hour helpline was set up with the telephone number widely distributed in the area as well as put up in local police stations. Open air aviaries were set up to house the injured birds which were then released after treatment.
Volunteers were recruited from among the local people to help man the helpline as well as take care of the injured birds. The volunteers received and act upon the raptors and other bird rescue calls in their respective zones and brought them to the centre. The injured birds were provided with necessary veterinary care which included suturing of wounds, administering medicines, proper dietary care etc until they were deemed fit for release.
The team dealt with birds that were affected by injuries due to both natural and anthropogenic factors. A large tree with nesting cattle egrets in a village close to Najafgarh was blown down during a storm on the 28th of August 2014. Close to a hundred nests were destroyed due to this, killing several chicks and adults alike. The team with the help of the established volunteer base rescued around 60 cattle egret chicks from the fallen nests.
The rescued chicks were then fed on small fish with additional supplements to aid their diet. A close watch was kept on the chicks to safeguard their health and their growth and diet was carefully monitored. They were then reintroduced into the wild once they were fully fledged.
The RAP so far has resulted in the rescue of over 430 birds with a majority of cases coming from East, Central and West Delhi. 85% of the birds had cut wounds and rest 15% with other conditions or were displaced juveniles.
An Urdu advertisment will soon be published in leading Urdu newspapers targetting the shop keepers selling the glass coated manjha.
Chimmony WLS, April 6, 2015: Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) implemented a Rapid Action Project (RAP) wherein field kits were handed over to the frontline forest staff of Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Each kit contains a bag pack, raincoat, cap, sleeping bag and an LED torch that will help the forest staff patrol the forests more efficiently. These kit bags were handed over by the WTI team to Shri Pius, Assistant Wildlife Warden, Chimmony WLS.
Among those present for the kit distribution programme included Shri. Viju Varghese, Wildlife Warden, Peechi-Vazhani and Chimmony WL Sanctuaries, Shri Pius and WTI team. Shri Varghese in his inaugural speech thanked WTI and said, “Providing basic gear to the forest staff is crucial for the long term survival of the forests and its inhabitants. We are grateful to WTI for providing this basic equipment that will help the staff in carrying out their duties more efficiently.” WTI’s Sabu Jahas, Manager, WTI, briefed the Forest Department about WTI’s initiatives in wildlife conservation across the country and spoke about the importance of equipping the forest staff to ensure better protection of the forests and its inhabitants.
Chimmony Sanctuary falls in Mukundapuram Taluk of Thrissur District of Kerala. The sanctuary was established in 1984 with an area of about 85.067 sq. km and is part of the Anamudi Elephant Reserve (Reserve No.8) in the state. The sanctuary harbors several endangered and endemic species. More than 50% of the sanctuary is under high conservation value zones. “Considering the increasing threats of poaching and illegal logging, this diverse ecological hotspot needs to be well protected. This initiative by WTI will help the frontline staff in monitoring these forests more proficiently. It will not only make life easier for the frontline forest staff that work in one of the most difficult circumstances but also motivate them to continue their work efficiently,” said Radhika Bhagat, Head, Wild Aid, WTI.
On a hot April morning in 2013, the residents of Bada Changru village in the Indian state of Jharkhand woke up to the loud trumpeting of an elephant. It’s not unusual for villagers to hear one; as they live in an area that is home to hundreds of these majestic animals.
The trumpeting sounded different that day though. It was desperate enough for the villagers to take notice and jolt them out of their usual morning routines. Concern and a partial curiosity drove them to follow the direction of the sounds. Meanwhile, the trumpeting only got louder.
It seemed to be coming from an abandoned well that most of the village had forgotten about. It is not uncommon in this region for old, dried up wells to be left uncovered and unguarded by walls. To the villagers’ horror, a elephant calf had fallen into an abandoned well upside down and was struggling hard to stand. They could see the calf was injured as he tried to get on to his feet.
Despite the eternal conflict with these creatures, a struggle in which neither side wins, the peoples’ unease at the calf’s plight was evident. They called officials of the State Forest Department immediately who in turn hurried to the spot. The Forest Department called in the mechanized earth diggers that dug out the earth from around the well to help the animal escape. With great effort from the locals and the Forest Department, the distressed animal soon emerged out of the well and scampered towards the forest and his mother, who had been driven to some distance to enable the rescue. This calf was lucky to survive, but several others are not so fortunate.
In the past couple of years, five calves have fallen into these abandoned wells that are scattered across the mosaic of villages. Out of these, only three survived while the rest died a painful and lonely death. Their deaths were mourned by the entire village who were struggling to come up with a solution to avoid mortalities of these highly revered animals.
In India, the elephant is thought of as an incarnation of the Lord Ganesha and a death of an elephant is considered inauspicious. The villagers believe that elephant deaths would bring misfortune to their villages and all efforts must be made to save them. Year after year, elephants were falling into abandoned and unguarded wells and something needed to be done to stop this. Amit Kumar Lal of Jungle Boy Trust, a Jharkhand based non-profit organisation has been working in these villages on mitigating the Human Elephant Conflict with WTI.
Struggling to find a solution, Lal approached Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) through a Rapid Action Project to identify wells, cover them or build a boundary wall around them. These villages are surrounded by farms that have several such open wells meant to irrigate the agricultural land. During the dry spells, the elephant herds usually move closer to the farm lands in search of water and food. Without any fencing, these wells turn into death traps for unsuspecting elephants especially calves.
Moreover, a majority of these wells are not manned or regularly visited by the locals, reducing the chances of detection of any elephant in need of rescue. The mortalities weren’t confined to only elephants, several other wild animals like wild boar, snakes etc. have fallen prey to these killer wells.
To address this urgent need, WTI agreed to assist the Jungle Boy Trust and undertook a pilot project to identify these abandoned wells. On the basis of a preliminary survey and discussions with the concerned Forest Department officials, we zeroed down upon eight wells that were frequently used by the elephants. Judging by the signs of elephant activity around these wells, we realized that it was crucial that these wells be covered or a wall be built around them immediately.
Till date, these eight conflict prone wells have been covered or walled and no incidents of elephants falling inside the wells have been recorded from the region. Local feel they are only protecting their God. There is no worse sight than to look at a dead calf in a well. Therefore, it becomes important that we try and save as many as we can and let these marvellous beings roam the forests for centuries to come. And by doing so, even our gods will be pleased.