With the avian influenza threat prompting the need for a detailed study of behaviour of migratory birds, a group of ornithologists will soon hold talks with Ministry of Environment and Forests officials on clearance for a nationwide exercise.
The migratory birds will monitored at Haigam and Hokasur in Kashmir, Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh, Harike in Punjab, Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, Kahar Lake in Bihar and Chilka lake in Orissa. The birds on the list are the brown-headed gull, palla’s gull, great cormorants and the bar headed geese. They travel great distances to spend winter in India.
The logistics will be huge. A plan is being drafted to activate volunteer networks, and make use of the skills of the forest and agriculture department in the exercise.
Normal rings as well as satellite rings will be used to track migratory pattern. Satellite tags would be fitted as backpacks on the birds, after taking their faecal and blood samples. This would help locate them if any H5N1 virus were detected.
The samples would be sent to the laboratory in Bhopal.
Migratory birds are suspected to have carried the deadly H5NI virus to geese in Qinghai lake of China in April, last. By May, 1,500 birds were dead. So far, no live migratory bird has been found with the virus.
Although the odds of these birds flying while infected is remote, the government is not taking any chances, as there’s evidence that the virus mutates. Even though poultry is still the main carrier, migratory birds cannot be ignored.
‘‘Since studies suggest that the virus mutates into deadlier forms that may be transported by migratory birds, we need to undertake this exercise,’’ said Taej Mumdkur from Wetlands International, one of the NGOs involved in the project.
Some of the bar geese from Qinghai lake have been found in the wetlands of Karnataka, and along the Brahmaputra river earlier. It is not known how many of these come from China. ‘‘So far, we have very general information on these birds, but we need to know precise movements for not just combating avian influenza, but also other diseases,’’ said Mundkur.
The exercise will not just involve coordination between personnel but also money. ‘‘The final estimates would be decided later but we have given a proposal of Rs 40 lakh for just bird-catching and surveillance,’’ said Vibhu Prakash of Bombay Natural History Society who is a veteran in monitoring bird behavior using satellite technology.
Although the plan has been with the Ministry for over a month, it is only after several fresh appearances of the virus around the world, and a warning by the World Health Organisation (WHO)that they have decided to give it a serious thought.