Bird Flu from Migratory Birds

2020 began with Covid-19 outbreak causing mass deaths in the human population. 2021 started with migratory birds dying in Himachal Pradesh from Bird Flu outbreak. Bird Flu or Avian Flu is a disease in birds, which was first observed in China in 1996 and have spread worldwide among birds. By the end of 2020, about 2500 migratory birds are found dead in the Pong Dam of Himachal Pradesh. The number is enough to raise the concern of mass spreading of the virus in the countryside.

India being shielded by the Himalayas from cold winter winds of central Asia is a great winter habitat for migratory birds of central Asia. Most of the birds start arriving in India by late November and stays up to February. However, this year, migratory birds which have arrived in Himachal Pradesh have been infected with Bird Flu. A similar bird flu outbreak among local crows is noticed in Rajasthan. However, what concerns is the spreading of bird flu among the migratory birds which are very less in number, and occasional visitor of our country.

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Among the immediate actions taken, slaughtering, sale, purchase, and export of eggs, meat, and chicken is strictly prohibited in Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, the epicentre of Bird Flu. Most other states, including far off states like West Bengal, have been alerted to watch out for dead and infected migratory birds. Let us hope that, like Covid-19, this Bird Flu will also come down in the recent future.

Why are the migratory birds so important to India? Many of these winged winter visitors are endangered or near-threatened, some are very iconic, and some are extremely rare visitors. Santragachhi jheel, a big pond near the city of Kolkata in eastern India, records rare migratory birds like Lesser Whistling Duck and the nearly threatened Ferruginous Duck. After 113 years in 2013, Whopper Swans have been spotted at the same Pong Dam lake. In the most unlikely circumstances, Whooper Swans arriving in Kashmir after at least 90 years fall to the prey of poachers operating in that area.

So what we need to do now? Awareness! Migratory birds do die of both natural diseases as well as by poaching. Poaching is in our hands, and we can easily stop hunting for migratory wild birds. Spreading of natural diseases may be possible to some extent by some prevention measures. Let us hope, this 2021 bird flu in Himachal Pradesh raises the importance of migratory birds and their conservation in upcoming years.

India, being shielded by the Himalayas from cold winter winds of central Asia, is a great winter habitat for migratory birds of central Asia. Most of the birds start arriving in India by late November and stays up to February. However, this year, migratory birds, which have arrived in Himachal Pradesh have been infected with Bird Flu. 95% of the infected birds are bar-headed geese, a migratory bird from Russia and northern China. A similar bird flu outbreak among local crows are noticed in Rajasthan. However, what concerns is the spreading of bird flu among the migratory birds which are very less in number, and occasional visitor of our country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

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