Winged ‘oracles’ in peril

People turn to God to stop epidemic

BJ Mirror Correspondent

Dead crows are found strewn in Jharkhand villages

Once upon a time crows occupied pivotal position in our life. The winged oracles would foretell arrival of loved one or eagerly awaited message. Many folk lores, songs and fables are woven around them. The advent of telephone and mobile they were pushed out of ‘job’. Now mobile towers and bird flu are threatening to stamp them out of existence.

Alarm bell is tolling in the tribal state of Jharkhand. Almost every day herds of crows are found dead in one part or the other for the last two months. Scientists have warned the forest and civil officials to take urgent steps and use medicines to arrest spread of the epidemic. One of the reasons for the epidemic assuming wild fire proportions lies in the crow nature itself. They gather in hordes to mourn their dead in loud cacophony. And, in the process the birds contact the disease. The crows are Nature’s second endangered scavengers, after the fast vanishing vultures.

In divine court: Worship for the crow safety

On the other hand, common people have turned to God to save the winged neighbor. The barbers of Jamshedpur took the matter straight to the court of Lord Vishnu, the creator of Hindu mythology, and prayed to Him with a three-hour yajnanear district collectorate to stop the crow deaths. In the yajna hosted by the All India Barbers’ Association, Jamshedpur unit, two Brahmin priests chanted mantras, lit the holy fire and incense sticks, offered ghee, coconuts and bananas to the flames, and at the end of it, applied black tikas on the foreheads of the organisers. Hundreds of curious onlookers watch the queer ceremony.

The association president Ram Uday Thakur said their concern for the crows stemmed from the fact that the bird played a vital role in the last rites (shraddh) of Hindus. “During shraddhcrows are offered a portion of food (Kaagbali ka pind), an act supposed to benefit the departed soul”, said Thakur.

Rough estimates cite 2,000 crow deaths in Jamshedpur alone. Deaths have been reported from Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Bokaro, Chaibasa and Ghatshila as well. The crow death was also raised in the Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha.

Now pigeons under threat

The crow epidemic has set alarm bell ringing in Jharkhand. The pigeons are said to be the latest victims and apprehensions are gaining ground that the other domestic pets, like cats and pigs. The Bokaro civil surgeon has cautioned the district administration and public to be careful and alert should they come upon any dead bird. The avian flu virus, H5N1, which was first detected in crows, appeared to have spread among pigeons as well as many birds of the latter variety had been found dead in Bokaro and Chas township, he said. The people have been advised to use plastic or rubber gloves while disposing the dead birds, and the carcasses had to be buried at least a metre below the ground after being covered in lime. (BJMC)

Meanwhile, the Indian Veterinary Research Institute’s (IVRI) Bhopal and Bareily centres haveheld the avian influenza virus, H5N1, responsible for the crow deaths in Jharkhand. Earlier avian flu had been detected in chickens.Mercifully the flu has remained limited to crows only. Other birds have remained unaffected so far. Apprehensions are gaining ground the crow epidemic may spread to Bihar.

Meanwhile, carcasses have been sent to the IVRI centre in Bareilly and National Institute of Virology, Pune, to identify the exact reasons behind the crow deaths. A Jamshedpur-based NGO studying environmental issues, YugantarBharti,has demanded a scientific study of the epidemic. “The premature death of crows is a matter of concern. The phenomenon, which started from Jamshedpur and later spread to other parts of the state, has assumed an epidemic proportion. Apart from the animal husbandry department, the wildlife authorities should also chip in and start a probe so that they can zero in on the accurate reason behind the deaths”.

Guessing game is on in different knowledgeable circles. A large section held the view that besides bird flu, other factors like radiation from mobile phone towers, exposure to cold and other diseases could also be responsible for the crow deaths. Health department nodal officer for bird flu in the district P.K. Bhagat, who is also the secretary of Red Cross Society of Dhanbad, on the other hand said no instances of bird flu had been reported from anywhere in India. However, preventive steps are being taken in the entire state. Meantime, panic has gripped many villages in Hazaribagh. Residents have been advised by experts not to touch the carcasses. More than 1,000 crows have died in Jamshedpur alone in the past one and a half months. Many villagers feared that crow deaths were an indication of something worse. Echoing the general fear, state coordinator of the Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) Satya Prakash feared that ‘the virus could infect human beings and other birds as well. People should bury the carcasses first’.

Amid the panic gripping Jharkhand area, K.K. Sharma, an NGO representative associated with the Ornithology Society of India, demanded categorisation of crows as wildlife species. “When vulture, an endangered bird, is listed under wildlife category, why not crows, which are a very important part of the nature?” he asked.


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