With winter on way, birds from Siberia fly miles in search of warm waters to spend their days before they fly back on return of comfortable days back to their habitat. But their journey is never safe for they are hunted in hundreds every day.
By PROF. DR. ABDULLAH G ARIJO
Past winter, when I was driving towards ‘Chilia Fish Farm’ near Thatta, I saw in many roadside villages, people holding 5-6 birds in each of their hands. They would come forward as they would see any car. At one point, I parked my car to have a cup of tea. Initially, one person ran towards my car, and in the next few minutes, nearly six more surrounded and tried their rural selling tricks, none was going to convince me.
Just Rs: 1000 for this handful of 10 birds, one man spoke. Pushing him aside, another man came, just 800. I was gazing into their poor faces. Before I could say something, the first person, loudly asked to a chapra hotel nearby, Sahid ko chae pilao, kark.
Ok, I am ready to purchase all these birds, on the condition that you will accompany me to the water bodies where I could set these birds free. You can’t do that, baba, one villager replied. Their legs and wings are broken. But why I asked with a bit of anger. So that they may not run away, one replied.
I came to know that in winter months, villagers find birds hunting as a profitable business. Kenjhar lake is hardly 12 km away from where a score of people from Karachi come for excursion and this establishes a lavish market for the selling of migratory birds.
People involved in this act have stories to convince buyers. Meat is not only delicious but best medicine against Polio victim. The blood of these birds if applied topically at your joint, the issue will vanish forever, and many more marks.
Millions of wild birds migrate from various water bodies of Russia, Siberia and other Central Asian states migrate towards Pakistan, waters every year at the onset of winter, usually starting in September. These birds leave their ice-covered lands and move thousands of miles away to escape the severe cold and the scarcity of food.
There are reports that almost 70 per cent of the migratory birds that enter Pakistan find their way to the wetlands of Sindh, but in recent years a trend has been seen where these birds are hunted down any moment for income earning and this has resulted into Hunting and netting of birds are not just for recreation and trade purposes, but there are manmade stories regarding the health benefits of their meat and blood against hemiplegia. Hunters even kill the threatened and endangered species viz. houbara bustards, cranes, herons, pelicans, storks, spoonbills, flamingos, marbled teals, cotton teals, spot bill ducks, common shelducks and woodcocks which are declared as Protected Species of Sindh.
According to estimate, an estimated population of one million aquatic birds migrate to Pakistan in general and Sindh, during the winter season as the mercury in north drops down to due -30 Centigrade Since Sindh has large water bodies, hence, most of the birds prefer to stay in wetlands along the Indus River. These freshwater wetlands of Thatta and Badin in lower Sindh. These water bodies provide suitable habitat and feeding opportunities to a wide variety of water-birds passing through Indus flyway.
Lake Lunch, lake Hamal & lake Drigh in Larkana and Haleji, Hadero and Keenjhar lakes in various habitats of Thatta districts are preferred wintering habitats for migratory water-birds which enjoy their winter in 45 sanctuaries and reserves spread over an area of about 900,000 hectares in Sindh (Rizvi, 2004).
Sindh province is regarded as welcoming ground for the millions of migratory birds from Siberia during the winter season. These migratory birds are suspected to carry a wide range of viral, bacterial, fungal and protozoan zoonotic pathogens either being themselves diseased or being seemingly healthy carriers, or the hosts of infected vectors (Hubálek, 2004). Therefore there is a dire need of broad base research to establish data on zoonotic infections transmitted by the migratory birds.
Migratory birds potentially play a role in the epidemiology of human-associated zoonoses (Abulreesh et al., 2007), as they bring with them, both endo and ectoparasites. Hypothetically they may be passing these infections to indigenous avian fauna and through their meat consumption, maybe a potential source of endo-parasite infections. Several investigations in Europe and the Middle East have examined the role of birds as carriers of ticks infected with tick-associated arboviruses and the Lyme borreliosis agent, Borrelia burgdorferi (Spear, 1987).
Sindh, one of the four provinces of Pakistan is a subtropical region, hot in summer and cold in winter. Temperature normally rises above 46º C (115º F) between May and August, and the lowest average temperature of 2º C (36º F) occurs during December and January. The annual rainfall averages about 177 mm, hence has a rich diversity of ecosystem and species living within these ecosystems. Sindh has a variety of freshwater and brackish wetlands providing ideal habitats for much aquatic bird species diversity of birds, fish and other aquatic species.
These wetlands of Sindh include Keenjhar, Manchar, Haleji, Nurri Jubbo and Keti Bundar. All these wetlands serve as wintering grounds for water-fowls such as flamingoes, ducks and shorebirds.
Manchhar Lake (26º24’N 67º38’E) the biggest freshwater natural lake of Pakistan is one of the largest in Asia; situated in district Jamshoro, west of River Indus. The lake is extended over an area of 250 Km² and swings with the seasons from as little as 350 Km² to 520 Km². Manchhar Lake substantially supports diverse economic activities to the fishermen, irrigation water of various crops and aquatic plants. In recent times, the lake was a top-off in the Indus flyway with migratory birds, but now the number has drastically reduced, as the water of Manchhar Lake has turned brackish and no longer supply the birds’ main food, the lake fish and vegetation. Instead, the lake now hosts brackish water reeds.
Migratory birds carry pathogens that can be transmitted between various bird species at breeding, wintering and stopover places where numerous birds of various species are concentrated (Jourdain et al., 2007). Parasites, including ectoparasites, rarely cause mortality of their hosts but can negatively impact energy reserves, body condition, and reproductive potential, reducing host fitness (Khoklova et al., 2002).
One study was conducted by my research team on the ectoparasites which were collected from migratory birds of Lake Haleji, Lake Hudero, and Lake Sonharo. The birds were captured and sold in the open market of Thatta and Badin city.
The 50 migratory birds were examined for ectoparasites infestations, 32 (64%) birds were found to have a lice infestation. Data revealed that out of 25 Black coots examined for ectoparasites, 18 (72%) were found to be infested with lice. Of 15 loons 8 (53.33%) were infested with lice and in 10 Gadwall examined, the rate of infestation was 06 (60%). The Black coot had a higher rate of infestation (72%), followed by Gadwall (60%) and Loon (53.33%).
There is every likely hood that these ectoparasite infestations are transferred to indigenous bird species that share the same water habitat. It is not out of place to mention that some of the infestations are transmitted and carried by migratory birds back to the north and south pole.
Every creature plays a vital role in the ecosystem. Ecological nitch explains the role of individual organisms it plays in an ecosystem. These migratory birds may also have a positive impact on the environment. It is time to establish protocols and mass counselling must be made using print and electronic media for discouraging illegal hunting of the migratory birds.
Author: PROF. DR. ABDULLAH G ARIJO Chairman Department of Parasitology Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam