Thar’s peacocks are doing a dance unto death. In just over a week, as many as 40 of the birds are believed to have died of a nutritional deficiency that seems to have affected their nervous system. There are no physical symptoms except that they keep whirling before they collapse.
The number of deaths has been disputed by the Sindh wildlife department that puts the toll at six. It said three are suffering from an illness which doctors are describing as a metabolic disorder harming the brain.
“We did a survey yesterday and found five to six peacocks and 25 to 30 hens dead,” wildlife official Lajpat Maharaj told The Express Tribune.
The deaths have been reported from the villages of Bapuhar, Gullan Jattar and Hoti Jattar among others. A resident of Bapuhar, Anupo Bheel, said, however, that seven peacocks had perished in his village alone. Further caution was sounded by Dharumal Ambrani, a wildlife activist working for SCOPE, who believes that exact statistics cannot be obtained unless the wildlife department surveyed the entire of Thar.
“There are 2,300 villages in Thar and this bird is seen in at least half of them,” he explained, adding that the official count does not include peacocks that died in forests or shrubbery and sick ones eaten by dogs and cats. Thar’s peacock population was surveyed at over 40,000 in 2005, but the wildlife department says that it would have naturally risen since then.
This is the second outbreak of a particular illness in the peacocks of Thar since February 2011 when symptoms like bulging throats, swollen eyes and a loss of appetite disfigured their beauty. This time, however, no physical symptoms have surfaced - except that the birds keep whirling.
“They feel dizzy and spin round and round for two to three minutes and then after a brief rest continue again relentlessly,” says Dr Jhaman Das who works for the Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory of the Sindh livestock department in Thar.
Dr Das is treating the sick birds in consultation with doctors outside Thar.
According to him, the birds have developed a deficiency of vitamins and minerals. He ascribed this to a shortage of water, heat and a very low yield of millet, maize and other plants which the peacocks eat for nutrition. They also eat snakes, insects and grubs.
The sudden reduction in the growth of these plants was caused by torrential rains of 2011. “We received between 1,300 to 1,400 millimetres of rain in the monsoon spell last year,” recalls Ambrani. “It washed away the soil which yielded these plants.”
The sick peacocks are being given water soluble Aedakure tablets for vitamins and Doxikash as an antibiotic. Dr Das claimed that two of the three sick peacocks they brought to the veterinary unit have recovered with the help of these medicines.
The medicines have been supplied by the poultry development department. Dr Abdul Aziz, a Mirpurkhas-based deputy director, explained that doses for 100 peacocks have been dispatched. He prescribed these medicines after Dr Das told him about the symptoms.
The birds are given these tablets by the villagers when they come to the villages after dawn in search of food and water. “All the peacocks which flock to the villages should be given the food supplements,” urged Dr Nisar Panhwar, a senior conservationist and head of the Centre for Environment and Development. He believes that as a long-term measure collaborative community-based care of the bird is a more viable solution.
In addition to illness, the birds are vulnerable to accidents and dogs and cats. They are often electrocuted when they perch on poles and spread their wings for up to five feet.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.