Dumka (Jharkhand), Jan 16 (ANI): India recently declared itself free from bird flu, at a time when the state of Jharkhand has been in a state of panic with the sudden and inexplicable death of thousands of crows in the last four to five months.
Every day hundreds of crows have been seen dead in different districts across the state.
The most affected regions are Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Chaibasa (Kolhan), Saraikela, Khoonti, Goddha, Sahibganj, and Jamtada. In East Singhbhum, over 500 crows have died so far. Godda has seen more than 250 deaths; Dumka, 100 and Sahibganj, 200. The death of crows in Santhal Pargana division has not abated either.
Crows, as scavengers, are valuable to the ecosystem and their consumption of animal carcasses helps avert the spread of diseases. Crows may also be efficient in controlling rats and mice during rodent plagues. They clean up pathogens from garbage near homes, protecting children and elderly who have less immunity. They help in maintaining the ecological balance. No doubt, this incident has created turbulence amongst environmentalists and administrators alike.
In the initial days, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Department of Environment worked together to find a reason behind this sudden surge in the casualties but could reach no conclusion. Efforts were also made by the forest officers, officials and doctors of the Animal Husbandry Department to save the lives of the birds, but it yielded no results. Neither were the untimely deaths of these helpless creatures checked nor were arrangements for their proper treatment made.
Accustomed to the deaths, people watched the black birds flying high and, in a flash, dropping dead in gardens, grounds and farms. A few days ago, a flying crow suddenly fell in the premises of Kishan P. Shah's medical store. He reported this incident to the District Animal Husbandry Office where Dr. Chandra Dev Prasad and Mohammad Ziya ul Hasan, Assistant Officer tried to save the crow, but their efforts were in vain. No medication proved effective.
Former Regional Director, Dr. Amar Kumar Verma, was of the opinion that there could be three possible reasons behind the tragedy. First, use of indiscriminate fertilizers and insecticides intended to protect the crop. When scavenging crows eat those insects and dead rats, they ingest the poisonous insecticide, resulting in death. Second, disease that usually kills the birds is that of Ranikhet. It affects the respiratory and nervous systems of birds leading to respiratory difficulty, tremors, and twitching of the head. Pigeon pox/fowl pox could also be one of the reasons, he suggested.
Amid all the speculations, a report from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Bhopal, confirmed that crows in the state are dying of Avian Influenza, informally known as Bird Flu. It is established in the report that H5N1 virus, responsible for the disease, has been detected in the dead crows. Their bodies were sent to IVRI in Bhopal and Bareilly, after the death of many crows in November 2011.
The confirmation was enough to send a chill down the spine of the hapless administration. Locals feared the spread of the epidemic to other species. However, according to A.K. Malhotra, Chief Forest Officer (Wildlife), the virus of bird flu has not infected any bird other than crows. Virsa Munda Biological Garden, Ranchi, has announced a high alert.
Several advisories were issued in local newspapers, asking people not to touch the dead crows, to bury them and inform officials and others. As a precautionary step, the Ranchi Zoo was also shut down to halt the spread of virus.
The Central Government also sent an advisory to the Jharkhand Government regarding the deaths of the crows - the same government that has declared India free from Bird flu. The declaration was made in Delhi on December 29, 2011. Technically, a country can declare itself free from bird flu if there is no outbreak of the disease for three consecutive months. What of these dead crows? Is the definition of 'Bird flu free country' restricted to healthy poultry birds alone? esides illness, there are also other factors responsible for the death of these useful birds that, through their scavenger role, have restricted the spread of contagious diseases and provided other imperative ecological services. We are losing the scavengers. The population of vultures has suffered a huge downfall. One can spot eagles more often than vultures, which have practically disappeared from sight. They are smuggled to produce steroids that are believed to increase physical and sexual vigour.
Environment safety is our responsibility - irrespective of whether we live in Jharkhand or Delhi. All of us need to take the onus of saving our fauna, be it birds, animals or trees. A world without birds will damage the intricately balanced ecosystem.
The Charkha Development Communication network feels that to ensure an "affordable" balance, we need to work towards better treatment of the dying birds. Only then we can justifiably declare India bird flu-free; and be proud of the truth! By Amrendra Suman (ANI)
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