India, as one of the 10 biggest countries in the world, supports a rich biodiversity. This is due to the different ecosystems that we can find in the country, from deserts to rainforests. In the state of Rajhastan alone, we can find nothing less than 500 bird species, out of which 100 migratory species use its lands every year.
However, every January in this country there is a big tragedy. It occurs during Makar Sakranti, an important festival celebrated throughout India and Nepal. It is a magic atmosphere, everyone enjoying with their families and friends on the rooftops, listening to music, eating good food, chilling and flying kites. Unfortunately, there is also an element of competition in this event: kite fighting. Kites are flown using glass coated threads (Manjah) to cut other`s kites. An unfortunate consequence is that thousands of birds get hurt or die colliding with Manjah in the week of Makar Sakranti.
I had the privilege to volunteer in RAKSHA, a youth-based organization that works against animal cruelty in Jaipur. The main activities of this NGO during the December and January (the period in which I worked there) is educational awareness against Manjah in schools and rescue and rehabilitation of injured birds.
Throughout the year if a citizen finds an injured bird anywhere they can call RAKSHA`s helpline, and someone from the team will rescue it. If the bird needs rehabilitation we take it back to the shelter, otherwise if it is case of getting stuck in Manjah, it is released on the spot.
RAKSHA also do snake rescue in citizen’s houses, releasing them in a forest near Jaipur. Although it was not snake season during my stay in Jaipur, we did some snake rescues and releases.
Prior to the week of Makar Sakranti we completed a Bird Treatment Camp in the heart of Jaipur city. At the camp were many volunteers that were trained to rescue birds, and veterinarians volunteering to provide first aid and surgery in injured birds. It was a bit rustic, we did not have the best technologies to do the surgeries, but it is still a wonderful work, and basically the only hope for injured birds. In three days of the Bird Treatment Camp we rescued 227 birds, including Pigeons, Lapwings, Egrets, Black Kites, Pea Fowls, and watched many surgeries done by veterinarians.
In early January RAKSHA organized a Curators Birds Rescue Workshop, to empower citizens and stakeholders about birds rescue and treatment more generally. I had the opportunity to give a presentation talking about Makar Sakranti, kite flying and the threats of Manjah.
At the final part of my internship, right after the Bird Treatment Camp, we worked hard in the post-surgery treatment of around 100 birds, most of them pigeons. Feeding, providing medicine and changing bandages of birds was really rewarding. To see them trying to fly and getting better with time made us to feel that we are finally doing something good for the world!
I believe the rescue effort is important for conservation of native species such as black kites, hornbills, lapwings and pea fowls. For example, in 2014 RAKSHA rescued a long billed vulture (Gyps indicus), a species considered Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. However, most of the birds that are rescued are rock pigeons (Columbia livia), an introduced species that is a pest in India. Because the work involves protecting and rescuing a species considered a pest, it is a very polemic topic.
Is it ethical for conservation projects to favour pests such as pigeons? Should we prioritize rescues and treatment only for native species? It is known that invasive species can impact negatively on habitats leading to a biodiversity decline (Sala et. al., 2000). Nevertheless, there is the animal’s welfare point of view that can be also taken into account. Should all species be treated equally and have the same right to live independent of being considered pests? The development of methods of fertility control could be a possible solution for the pest problem taking into account these two distinct points of view (Singer, 1997).
I believe that projects such as RAKSHA could keep working in favour of all animals, bringing direct and indirect conservation benefits even working with pests. Besides rescue and rehabilitation, I believe the educational awareness has also an astonishing importance: to educate people that an injured pigeon is not less important than an injured eagle. All forms of life are important, and we must respect and care about them.
Evelyn Dias Jorge
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- Singer, P. (1997). Neither human nor natural: ethics and feral animals. Reprod. Fertil. Dev., 9: 157–62.