MITHI: “I’m really sad because my bird’s not eating. It’s not moving much and its eyes hurt,” says a pensive Nisar Ali.
Ali is talking about his peacock, a rather majestic pet to have. But in Kaheri village, Mithi, several families own peacocks. In fact, residents say, peacocks are to Mithi what stray dogs are to Karachi. Hundreds can be found wandering around in the villages of Mithi, Tharparkar, where they come out looking for food. Residents feed them seeds and after having their fill, the birds go back to their habitat.
The peacocks have become tame and they come out from nearby forests and shrubbery at dawn and then go back after sunset. Hundreds of peacocks used to visit their village before, but now merely 60 or 80 of them venture out - a trend that has all residents, especially the children, worried.
However, in the past few weeks, the birds have been dying. Villagers say that it is a strange disease that has taken dozens with it. Wildlife officials say, however, that it is a viral infection.
Residents said healthy peacocks fall sick suddenly, their eyes swell up and they become blind. The next symptom is a bulging neck and the birds stop eating and drinking. Eventually, they die of weakness. Also, when they lose their eyesight they become prey to other animals such as dogs and wildcats or they fall into open wells.
Ghulam Muhammad Wasaipoto says peacocks are part of Tharparkar’s cultural heritage and they love these birds. “They can warn us of impending earthquakes or other natural disasters,” he says, adding that the birds start to shriek loudly in warning before a calamity hits. Other than their foretelling abilities, peacocks are also appreciated by the villagers because they kill and eat small snakes.
If nobody looks into this disease then soon, the birds will become extinct, he adds.
According to Lachpat Sharma, wildlife department assistant conservative officer in Tharparkar, only two peacocks have died so far. He says it is a viral infection that is common towards the end of winter. He also claims the disease is restricted to Kaheri village.
As soon as the department was informed of the deaths, a team, including veterinary doctors, went to the village. They checked the peacocks and gave some medicines to the residents with instructions to mix the drugs with the food they give to the birds. Sharma maintains after that, the department has not received any more complaints.
Earlier in February, the fisheries minister held a press conference in Karachi and blamed the media for ‘exaggerating the deaths of wildlife species’. He also confirmed the death of just one peacock and one peahen in Mithi. One of the pair had been found dead while the other was sick and had died during treatment.
The minister said the cause of death was a throat infection with swelling of the eyes, which was due to the viral infection.
He had said the government had formed teams led by a veterinary doctor to patrol and monitor the affected regions so they could provide treatment to sick birds on the spot.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2011.