Save Birds from Kite-String Injuries

by Wildlife Trust of India
Save Birds from Kite-String Injuries
Save Birds from Kite-String Injuries
Save Birds from Kite-String Injuries
Save Birds from Kite-String Injuries
Awareness campaign
Awareness campaign

The kite festival of Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti) is regarded as one of the biggest festivals celebrated in western part of India. It marks the transition of the sun into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn) on its celestial path. The day is also believed to mark the arrival of spring in India. The tradition of kite flying is believed to have started amongst the kings and royalties, however over the years, it became a popular sport and began to reach the common mass. Kite flying during Uttarayan is now celebrated as a regional event.

Kites flown these days are known to use a strong special string which is made by applying glass powder on it (known as Manjha) to provide it a cutting edge. This practice of using an abrasive thread for kite fighting has posed a great threat to species including birds, fruit-bats, macaques and even humans. The impact on birds however is much larger. Birds when in flight, fail to notice the fine glass-coated thread, get entangled and injured even causing fractures, mutilation of wings and nerve injuries. At times, the minute glass pieces used in manjha get embedded in their bodies adding to the misery and eventual death. Additionally, these strings unlike their cotton counterpart do not lose its strength even after getting wet and hence stays for a long time in the environment, creating potential threat for the birds both local and migratory. With more kites competing for space with birds, the number of injuries has risen over the years.

Wildlife Trust of India took the initiative to address the issue. The project team went to every corner of Jaipur with the message of a safe Makar Sakranti and initiated mass campaign by conducting various events in lieu with the theme. Our primary target was educational institutions (schools and colleges) where video screenings, presentations and live talk shows related to a bird safe Sakranti festival were conducted. We formed teams called “special action forces• comprising of selected students who helped us during our citywide awareness campaigns. We asked students to sign a pledge saying they will not fly kites with glass-coated manjha. School/College managements appreciated our efforts and stood shoulder to shoulder with us for other events also. Schools and Colleges were educated and a huge target of over 14000 students (in 30 schools) was accomplished. Project team along with their volunteers performed many nukkad-nataks at strategic locations, Jaipurs largest Temple-Govind Dev ji Temple, Birla Mandir, City Pulse, Albert Hall, Trident Mall) followed by signature campaigns wherever they visited. Our signature campaigns (Albert Hall, Walled City, Trident Mall, Govind Dev ji Temple, Birla Mandir, Galta Temple) attracted local residents, shop owners, etc in various areas of the city. Information Education and Communication (IEC) material in form of posters, brochures and pamphlets was circulated in the public. A candle light march was organized at Albert Hall and peace rally at Mansarover which witnessed huge participation from school kids and their parent alike. The team also approached religious leader to spread message of conserving the birds which were telecasted in regional TV shows.The awareness campaign reached a direct audience of 2 lakh people with many more reached through media coverage.

Awareness Programme in different regions of Jaipur was a great success in creating awareness about kite string injuries in birds amongst the people of Jaipur with people of all ages and social backgrounds participating. Following the awareness programme the locals found to be more involved by rescuing and taking the injured birds to veterinary relief camps. As a result approx 1000 birds (Black kites, pigeons, cormorants, spotted dove, bee eaters, egrets, barn owls etc) were treated during the veterinary relief camps. Another major outcome, that came out was District Administrator put forward a timeline for flying kites and bans the Chinese manjha from all the shops. The District Administrator put forward a timeline for flying kites and banned the Chinese manjha from all the shops. Time regulations were implemented to avoid flying kites between 7 and 9 am and between 5 and 7 pm which is when raptor activity is deemed highest. With help of enforcement done by team members, it was made ensure that no shopkeeper sells the Chinese manjha in the area. In this way, glass coated strings were completely banned in the area.

The awareness campaign initiated, seeks to continue and sensitize even higher target audience.

Newspaper clipping
Newspaper clipping
Campaign
Campaign
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IFAW-WTI veterinarian treating a bird in Porbandar
IFAW-WTI veterinarian treating a bird in Porbandar

In yet another attempt to rescue and treat birds injured by kite strings during the kite flying festival also known as Uttarayan and Makar Sankranti, IFAW-WTI organized veterinary camps in Gujarat and Rajasthan. These camps were held in Porbandar and Bhavnagar in Gujarat and Jaipur in Rajasthan. IFAW-WTI collaborated with different NGOs and respective Forest Departments in these cities to ensure that relief is provided to birds that are in need of any sort of treatment. Each year hundreds of birds die after getting entangled in glass coated kite strings. 

In Porbandar, IFAW-WTI in collaboration with Mokarsagar Wetland Conservation Committee (MWCC) and Gujarat Forest Department set up veterinary camps in Porbandar Bird Sanctuary to attend to as many cases as possible. A control room was also set up which coordinated bird rescue calls from different parts of the city. Four veterinarians from Junagadh Veterinary College were part of the team and rendered their help in treating many urban and wild birds injured by kite strings. In addition, a wildlife rehabber was also roped in for the operative care of the injured birds.


The camp witnessed admission and treatment of more than 70 birds. Many wild species like cattle egret, little egret, Heuglin's gull, common crane, demoiselle cranes, Dalmatian pelican, yellow wagtail, white Ibis, red wattled lapwing, lesser flamingos, peacock, golden plovers, among other notable species were treated in these three days. Apart from these, a considerable number of injured rock pigeons were also treated in the camp. The treated birds were kept in an aviary (with different holding areas) where a rehabber kept them under observation. 

Specific feed was provided to different bird species and once the birds recovered, they were released inside the bird sanctuary and few in their natural habitat. Moreover, a team of local youth also screened many wetlands in and around the city to remove discarded kites and strings to minimize injuries.

In Bhavnagar, IFAW-WTI assisted the Forest Department in providing rescue and relief measures to the injured birds. The city in the past has witnessed a large number of birds getting injured each year due to kite strings. This year, the camp was held for three days and around 40 birds were treated and released at the camp site. Barn owls, spot billed ducks, comb ducks, ibis and flying foxes were treated by veterinarians from Anand Agricultural College. In Surat, IFAW-WTI team undertook kite string removal programme across the city. 

For three years in a row, IFAW-WTI has been organising workshops, veterinary camps, awareness drives and aligning with local NGOs to save birds during the kite flying festival.

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Pledges were signed during street plays
Pledges were signed during street plays

The festival of Makar Sankranti is one of the few Hindu festivals that falls on the same day every year according to the Gregorian calendar.It signifies the end of the winters and the heralding of spring.Widely celebrated around India, the rituals followed on this include exchanging of sweets made from sesame and jaggery and the flying of kites The gods who have slumbered for six months are have awakened and the kites are flown to the portals of heaven that are now open. 

This idyllic festival can have lethal connotations for birds, however as kite strings (also called manjha)  are often heavily coated with powdered glass to give the kite fliers an advantage in their fiercely fought battles. The strings can be so sharp that people flying kites often bandage their hands to prevent injuries. Another threat that has recently been added is the introduction of "Chinese manjha" which is made from nylon. The nylon strings are popular as they are fairly cheap and do not degrade. Hence they remain a threat to birds long after the festivities have ended.

The kite flying festivities are enjoyed with vigour in the city of Jaipur with numerous kites dotting the skies for days after.  Last year the Jaipur Administration banned the use of Chinese manjha and the flying of kites during the hours that birds are most active. i. e. between 6 to 8 am and 5 to 7pm.

 However, it is important that these bans are enforced and adhered to by the public. In order to do this, the project team has started a campaign to reach out to the people of Jaipur to senstize them towards the plight of birds. A special poster for the campaign, designed by the team, was issued by the District Collecter. This poster has already been put up in various schools, colleges and other institutions.

Awareness camps have been set up in two schools so far where the team spoke to the students. Students signed and recited the following pledge:

1). I will not fly kites from 6.00-8.00AM & 5.00-7.00PM .
2). I will not buy Chinese manjha.
3). I will dispose of leftover manjha in waste bins only. 

Students also pledged to remove manjha from at least five trees near their houses.

The campaign team has also set up two bird treatment camps for injured birds in prominent areas of the city.

Street plays were held at popular tourist spots like the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace and the Govind Dev Ji Temple. The plays were performed at times when the footfall in these areas is the highest thereby reaching out to a large number of people. Over 400 people signed the pledge during these plays. 

As the festival draws nearer, the campaign is intensifying its activties with peace rallies and candle light vigils. more sensitisation programs have also been initiated around the city.

Street plays were held at popular places
Street plays were held at popular places
The poster being issued by the district collector
The poster being issued by the district collector

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Birds under treatment
Birds under treatment

Makar Sankranti is a traditional Hindu festival celebrated in most parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. In some parts of India it is observed with great fanfare over a period of 3-4 days. It is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. For example, in the state of Gujarat it is known as Uttarayan and in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab as Maghi. In Assam it is known as Bhogali Bihu. The kite festival of Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti) is regarded as one of the biggest festivals celebrated in western part of India.

Kite flying during Uttarayan is now celebrated as a regional event in Gujarat. It is declared as a public holiday for 2 days. People often have competitions (also known as kite fighting) during which competitors will entangle the thread used while flying kites in the sky and try to cut the string off of each other's kites by pulling it.

An abrasive thread (Manja) is used while flying kites to ensure cutting the competitors string during a kite fight. Manja is made by coating regular string in glass powder and gum. Thispractice of using an abrasive thread for kite fighting has posed a great threat to species including birds, fruit-bats, monkeys and even humans. The impact on birds however is much larger. Birds when in flight, fail to notice the fine glass-coated thread and get entangled in the Manja because of which they either get injured or killed.

There has been no systematic study to quantify the impact of bird kills due to kite flying. However, a rough estimate would suggest over 10,000 avian emergencies get attended during the month of January every year. The number of birds which get injured is much higher in urban areas due to higher density of kite flying. Often, kites after its line is cut off by an opponent, drifts and gets stuck in trees. The birds get entangled in these strings and get injured due to strangulation or in an attempt to set free. This is one of the biggest reasons why rescue calls of birds continue even after the festival is over.

These days cheaper and more durable “Chinese manjha” is available in the market which is made of nylon and is non-biodegradable. This thread unlike cotton manjha does not lose its strength even after getting wet and hence stays for a long time creating potential threat for the birds.

In order to address this, a workshop on handling avian emergencies during the kite flying festival was held in Ahmedabad. It involved representatives from all over Gujarat and also from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan where kite flying is considered as an important sport. One city in Gujarat, Bhavnagar, was found to have an acute shortage of veterinarians to treat the injured birds. The project team visited Bhavnagar to assess the facilities there. The city was unique in the way that it had large colonies of painted storks right in its centre. It also has a reserve forest area (Victoria Park) within the city limits with a pond where a number of wetland bird species can be seen. Victoria Park also had an aviary where injured birds could be easily housed. In spite of having a good infrastructure at their disposal, the shortage of avian vets and proper technical guidance affected their release percentage.

 Essential supplies like suture materials, surgical tools, medicines etc were also procured. The facilities at a local animal shelter were examined and suggestions were made to them to help better their capacity to respond to injured birds. A meeting was held by the forest department along with the animal husbandry department and all the local organizations and volunteers from all over Bhavnagar district to discuss about the way rescues were to be conducted. First aid kits were distributed to all the volunteers after the meeting.

Mass awareness campaigns were also held in schools and colleges in Bhavnagar and students were urged to not use glass coated strings to fly kites. Volunteers and rescue teams patrolled Bhavnagar bringing in injured birds. Locals in Bhavnagar also rescued injured birds and admitted them to the facility for further treatment and care. All the birds brought in were recorded in a register maintained by the Forest Department and a bright coloured numbered tag was applied on every bird that was brought in. Most of the birds brought in for treatment had severely mutilated wing muscles and some were also presented with fractured bones. Vets attended to these birds and surgically repaired the injuries. The bird species found injured included comb duck, painted stork, black ibis, great white pelican, myna, francolin, black drongo, rose ringed parakeet, blue-rock pigeon, and house sparrow.

The birds were then shifted to the Forest Department aviary in Victoria Park where they were fed. Wounds were dressed regularly and wounds were re-bandaged promptly when the birds loosened their bandages. Those birds which had suffered minor injuries and were found fit upon physical examination were released in the Krishnakunj lake within Victoria park. This helped relieve the birds of undue stress of captivity and ensured adequate self feeding in natural conditions. This also helped prevent unnecessary injury to the weaker birds by the healthier dominant birds.

The rest of the birds were kept in the rehab facility till they were found fit for release. Feeding and wound dressing was taken care of by the volunteers and the Forest Department from thereafter. Those birds which could not fly again were released in Krishnakunj Lake after their wounds healed.

Over a 120 birds were treated in total.

The kite flying festival continues to threaten birds across a lot of Western India and more efforts like the one above along with sustained awareness programmes will continue in order to curb this issue.

Bird being treated for kite string injury
Bird being treated for kite string injury
Black Ibis being released
Black Ibis being released
Birds being released at the lake
Birds being released at the lake
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Injuries caused by a kite string
Injuries caused by a kite string

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.

Barn owl being treated for a fracture
Barn owl being treated for a fracture
Cattle egret chicks saved from a nest fall
Cattle egret chicks saved from a nest fall

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Wildlife Trust of India

Location: Noida, Uttar Pradesh - India
Website:
Project Leader:
Samruddhi Kothari
Assistant Manager
Noida, Uttar Pradesh India

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