New Delhi: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has directed all state wildlife departments to take serious note of avian flu cases and report mortality of wildlife to the ministry on priority. Bird deaths have been reported from Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.
In Himachal Pradesh, the state forest department confirmed the death of 2,300 migratory birds, largely comprising bar-headed goose along with river tern, brown-headed gull, and cormorants in and around the Pong Dam Sanctuary area. Poultry birds have been affected in Haryana, crows in Rajasthan and ducks in Kerala.
Senior forest department officers from Himachal Pradesh said bird deaths were first noticed on December 28 when field staff were estimating the numbers of migratory birds. The field staff began combing the entire sanctuary area and found more dead birds. “We do a fortnightly estimation of bird arrivals during this season. We had estimated the arrival of 57,000 migratory birds by December 15. The birds found dead are being buried as per protocol and we are isolating the few that survived,” said Upasana Patial, Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), North.
Samples collected from the dead birds in Himachal Pradesh were sent to National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD), Bhopal. NIHSAD informed the Department of Animal Husbandry on Tuesday that the preliminary results of all five samples tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza virus following a Real-time – Polymerase chain reaction test.
The wildlife division of the union environment ministry told states in its letter that they should take all possible measures and precautions to prevent transmission of diseases, if any, in other animals and human beings. “Surveillance for mortality of wildlife particularly needs to be taken up on priority and states are requested to report such incidences of mortality to this ministry,” the environment ministry said.
The ministry highlighted that a large number of migratory birds visit India during this season and thus states are advised to keep a strict vigil on wintering habitats of such birds, including wetlands, for signs of mortality or disease outbreak. “We have alerted chief wildlife wardens and principal chief conservators of forests in the states as well as other senior officials in state administrations and requested them to bring to notice any large scale bird deaths,” said a senior official from the environment ministry.
Bar-headed goose are the highest flying migratory birds and fly to India to escape the harsh winter in Central Asia and Russia. Migratory birds use flyways or specific migratory routes during their annual migration cycle. The Central Asian Flyway is one such, and one of the most crucial in the world. The Indian sub-continent hosts a major portion of the CAF and India is the winter home for 90% of bird species known to use this migratory route. According to government data, around 370 species of migratory birds from three flyways visit the Indian sub-continent.
The ministry also shared a slew of guidelines to be followed while handling birds. State wildlife departments have been specifically asked to step up surveillance of migratory birds and have been advised to prepare an action plan for monitoring, surveillance and any emergency. “Surveillance should not be restricted to the protected areas alone, but to all such wetlands and habitats that provide staging grounds to migrating birds and to areas where there is a possibility of interaction between poultry and migratory birds,” the ministry has said.
A weekly report, too, has been sought from states on sighting of migratory birds within and outside protected areas, approximate number and species of birds that have arrived and any other information deemed necessary.