A senate committee has asked the Sindh wildlife department to do whatever it can to stem the spread of the Newcastle virus which has killed a number of peacocks in Sindh’s districts, including Tharparkar.
The standing committee on climate change met wildlife officials in the Ministry of Climate Change’s committee room on Monday. Dr Saeeda Iqbal, the chairperson of the committee, said that although the media is a crucial actor in spreading awareness about the virus, it should not create unnecessary hype. Syed Mahmood Nasir, the inspector general of forests at the Ministry of Climate Change, said that the media reported that over 250 peacocks have died, but the officials at the Sindh wildlife department and World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF) have said that the figure was inflated.
He said that the Newcastle disease was not the only reason the peacocks have been dying –bacterial infections, parasites and nutritional deficiencies were also rampant among the birds. “There is a scarcity of food and water every time it does not rain. This leads to deaths of not only peacocks, but also other animals as well,” he said.
The wildlife department’s additional secretary, Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani, insisted that number of peacocks that have died is between 40 and 60. The Sindh director of WWF, Rab Nawaz, said that the organisation has conducted a survey in which it discovered that 69 peacocks have died and 19 are infected.
Sindh wildlife conservator Saeed Akhtar Baloch gave a presentation in which he said that to stop the spread of the disease, ponds are being treated with lime to eradicate fungal contamination, infected peacocks have been isolated and a quarantine facility has been set up to treat sick ones.
Meanwhile, in Karachi…
Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah met with wildlife, fisheries and agriculture officials to discuss the efforts the departments have made to control the outbreak of the virus.
Wildlife minister Dr Daya Ram Essarani, livestock minister Mir Abid Jatoi and agricultural minister Syed Ali Nawaz Shah Rizvi attended the meeting which took place on Monday at CM House.
Wildlife secretary Mushtaque Ali Memon said that there are about 70,000 peacocks in Tharparkar, Mithi, Nagarparker, Diplo and Chachro. He added that 19 peacocks had died in Thar last year. He said that no peacocks had died after August 8, adding that the recent downpour in the virus-hit areas had created weather conditions which stop the spread of infection.
Drought and delayed monsoon coupled with a lack of food in the area had fuelled the spread of the virus. Lab tests run on samples collected from dead and sick birds has confirmed that the peacocks had been infected by the Newcastle virus, said Memon.
About 45,000 doses of vaccine have been administered to sick birds and distributed to villagers.
Memon also referred to a WWF report which stated that only a few villages had been hit by the virus and that the number of deaths was much lower than that reported by the media.
“When he realised the fact that media was creating havoc, Dr Essarani arranged a briefing on July 30 and the following day, a delegation of Karachi press club journalists were sent to observe the on-the-ground situation,” said Memon.
A long-term recovery and action plan has been developed in collaboration with the IUCN and WWF to mitigate any future outbreaks.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.