Migratory birds continue to die, officials shut HP’s Pong wetland

With the inexplicable death of migratory water fowls continuing to rise in Pong Dam Lake, authorities have closed the wetland to both locals and tourists.

Over 1,000 birds of different species have mysteriously died since the first deaths were reported on December 28. Preliminary postmortem reports have ruled out poisoning.

Forest minister Rakesh Pathania had ordered a probe into the matter soon after the dead birds were found.

Kangra deputy commissioner Rakesh Kumar Prajapati, who issued an order to cease all activities, said, “Samples have been sent to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly and Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Jalandhar, to ascertain the cause of the birds’ death. The possibility of a disease cannot be ruled out.”

In case the birds are found to be suffering from a contagious disease, preventive measures will be taken in and around 10km of the reservoir, as per protocol, he said, adding that since the disease may also be dangerous to animals and humans, no people or livestock will be allowed in and around 1km of the wetland till further orders.

Around 9km area around the lake has been designated an ‘alert zone’, which will be strictly monitored.

Chief conservator of forest (wildlife), north, Upasna Patyal said, “The field staff reported the sudden death of four bar-headed geese and one common teal in Fatehpur area of Pong on December 28. Next day when the staff surveyed the wetland area more than 400 birds were found dead. The number has now crossed 1,000. Members of other species such as the shoveler, river tern and black-headed gull were also found dead.”

Patyal said, “The birds were seen acting strangely before their deaths. They were not able to take the flight, despite having healthy wings. They tried to flap but died a little while later.” She said over 20 samples had been sent for testing to different labs, including the Wildlife Institute, Dehradun. The reports will take a few days to arrive.

The Pong Dam Wetland—an International Ramsar Site— hosts more than 1 lakh migratory birds of over 100 species, that fly thousands of kilometers from the trans-Himalayan Region and Central Asia in winter every year.

The Pong Dam Lake, constructed on the Beas river in 1960, was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and given the status of the wetland of national importance in 1994. In 2002, it got the status of a Ramsar site.

Last year, 1.15 lakh birds of 114 species were spotted on the wetland. The bar-headed geese are most plentiful in Pong.

Other prominent avian visitors include the northern pintail, the Eurasian coot, the common teal, the common pochard, the northern shoveler, the great cormorant, the Eurasian wigeon and the ruddy shelduck.

The fortnightly census conducted on December 15, recorded around 57,000 migratory birds.

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