Bird flu scare: Chandigarh keeping watch on winged visitors

CHANDIGARH - As this city plays host to around 15,000 migratory birds which are here for the winter, the administration is watching out for signs of danger - in the form of bird flu that hit some Indian states last year.

‘Our forest guards are keeping a close watch to check whether any bird is infected or suffering from any disease,’ Ishwar Singh, conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden of Chandigarh, told IANS.

‘The guards have been provided with modern binoculars and every day take around four-five rounds of the areas where these birds congregate.’

Last year the states of West Bengal, Assam, Manipur and Tripura reported cases of bird flu, which is caused by the H5N1 virus.

‘Avian influenza is one of the major causes of infection among birds. Wild birds usually do not get sick from it, but this virus is highly dangerous to other birds and makes domestic birds like chickens, ducks and turkeys sick and even kills them,’ Singh said.

‘The common symptoms are that the bird starts to stay at secluded places away from the flock, it stops flying, there is an unusual bending of the neck, secretion from eyes and it does not eat anything.’

Grebes, geese, shelducks, marsh ducks, diving ducks, rails, coots, stilts, hill kingfisher, mallard, pintail, Siberian ducks, pochards, cranes, storks and sandpipers are some of the migratory birds that come visiting the city every year. They come from Siberia, Central Asia, China, Afghanistan and the upper Himalayas.

‘If we find any case, we will isolate and inoculate the bird. We are following all disease control measures. Our officials also try their best to keep the whole area clean and to prevent any littering.’

A recent joint study by US and Japanese scientists found strong genetic evidence that wild migratory birds are the most important carriers of avian influenza viruses from continent to continent.

India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss also said last year that migratory birds were behind the outbreak of bird flu in Assam.

Rohit Ruhella, an environmentalist based here, said: ‘Infected birds carry influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and excretions. Other birds get infected when they come in contact with these contaminated secretions or excretions or with the surfaces that are contaminated.

‘Scientists all over the world are convinced that migratory birds are carrying the H5N1 virus in its highly pathogenic form. They carry it over long distances, and many times spread the virus among poultry birds that come in their way.’

Most of the migratory birds here, around 14,000, have made their winter homes in Chandigarh’s famous Sukhna Lake and the 190-odd ponds and swamps around, which together form the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, declared a protected national wetland.

The other 1,000-odd birds are in the Patiala-ki-Rao Forest Lake at Dhanas, on the outskirts of the city.

‘Migratory birds have been coming to Chandigarh every winter, for the last 25 years at least. The pleasant weather and many reptiles and fish in the water bodies here attract thousands of migratory birds here,’ Singh said.


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