Rather than taking recourse to the easier option of retaining the seven barn owl chicks found abandoned on the Sector 20-21 road on November 3 as zoo exhibits, the UT forest and wildlife department has given its approval to preparing the chicks for an eventual rehabilitation in the wilderness.
The chicks, which were handed over to the Chhatbir zoo, have been segregated into three enclosures according to their size and age, as cannibalism and siblicide is known in owl broods due to stress, food shortage or weather/nest disturbances. UT officials suspect the chicks were abandoned by either poachers or tantriks exploiting them for festive season rituals or other persons who had somehow come into their illegal possession.
“Our inquiry into the chicks’ recovery has not made much headway. We are considering handing over the case to the police. I spoke to the zoo’s senior veterinary officer Dr MP Singh and agreed with him on releasing the chicks in the wilderness at an apt time. I will visit the zoo soon to formulate a rehab plan, ”said UT chief wildlife warden Santosh Kumar.
Dr Singh and his team of vet assistants John Daniel, Harnek Singh, Raghbir Singh and Sudhir Kumar are providing the chicks minced chicken and buffalo meat and whole poultry chicks. “I discussed the rehab plan with Punjab chief wildlife warden Dhirendra K Singh, and he has given his assent. The chicks are being placed in the sun for a period of time and are administered vitamin, mineral and calcium supplements for growth and bone strength,” said Dr Singh.
Gradually preparing chicks for release
Since the chicks were robbed of the benefit of parental grooming in the art of survival and hunting, preparing them for release is a gradual process. Dr Vibhu Prakash, principal scientist for the BNHS vulture breeding programme at Pinjore’s Bir Shikar Gah, said: “All efforts should be made to reduce human interface with the chicks at the zoo. They can be given ‘stunned’ prey in the beginning, deprived of food for some time to get them used to wild conditions, and later introduced to live prey, especially mice. In the beginning, the chicks can be given 5% of their body weight in terms of food quantity.”
Recommending the release of these owls in spring, Pune-based Devna Arora of Rehabber’s Den, who has raised and rehabilitated a variety of orphaned and abandoned wild species, said: “Put the chicks on whole meats with skin/fur, as it is important that they form and regurgitate pellets. They can be introduced into larger enclosures with the ambience of a natural habitat and provided with guinea pigs, white mice, chicks, field rodents, etc, which they can learn to hunt. However, zookeepers must exercise caution that field rodents have not ingested a rodenticide as it can lead to secondary poisoning effects on the chicks.”