As unconfirmed reports about the death of more peacocks continue to float about, wildlife officials have started wrangling with reporters over the veracity of the death toll being reported in the media.
Unofficial estimates place the number of deaths at around 150 since the Newcastle disease hit seven districts of the province. About 12 more peacocks reportedly died on Friday in Sanghar and the toll for Thar was 15 birds. Around 9 peacocks also died in Thar on Saturday. However, the wildlife minister, Dayaram Essarani, said that the number of deaths being reported by the media was grossly inaccurate and blamed it for sensationalising the issue.
Even members of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature have cast suspicion on the numbers being reported by the media. “I have doubts that the villagers’ claims are crosschecked,” said Subhash Dawani, WWF’s conservation manager, who was in Thar to gather facts about the spread of the contagious virus. He said that he had checked six newspapers for stories on peacocks’ deaths and discovered that all of them had reported a similar death toll. “This suggests that the reporters have a select few sources that they approach for information.”
Dawani met journalists in Thar and questioned them about the accuracy of their news stories. He asked them why they had not verified the villagers’ claims by going to villages and seeing the dead peacocks themselves. “I also feel that the media should raise awareness about how to stop the spread of the disease. Newspapers should tell people how to call for help and what the proper method to bury a dead peacock is.”
The journalists refuted the allegations that they had been reporting inflated figures. “On the contrary, we feel that we are not reporting all the deaths occurring in Thar,” the reporter of local newspaper. He claimed that reporters have been getting information from around only 25 villages and there are many others from where information has not been amassed.
The estimated peacock population in Thar alone is between 50,000 and 70,000. An official census has not been conducted in the recent years. The bird can be found in around half of the 2,300 villages of the district, said Bhairumal Ambrani, a wildlife activist working for Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment. He also feels that the actual number of deaths caused by the virus has evaded the reporters as well as the government.
Given the enormous size of Thar, which is spread over 19,638 square kilometers, the reporters said that they lack resources and face conveyance problems which prevent them from visiting far flung villages. “The villagers who keep us informed about new deaths are mostly the ones whose villages we have already visited to verify earlier claims,” said another reporter of a television channel.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2012.