UT chief wildlife warden Santosh Kumar has on Wednesday ordered a probe into recovery of seven barn owl chicks from a hollow in the base of a trunk of a ‘Philkan’ tree on Sector 20 side of the road dividing it from Sector 21 on Tuesday.
Dumping the earlier theory that the chicks had “tumbled” out of their nest, it is now suspected by officials that the chicks were abandoned by either poachers/tantriks exploiting them for festive season rituals or other persons who had somehow come into their illegal possession.
In a parallel move, Kumar requested Punjab chief wildlife warden (CWW) Dhirendra K Singh to allow transfer of the chicks to the technical care of Chhatbir Zoo on Wednesday afternoon.
“I have asked range officer Pradeep Gulia to conduct a discreet inquiry into the recovery of these owls. The owls will be better looked after by the zoo staff as our staff is not trained to handle such sensitive birds. The Punjab CWW agreed to our request,” said Kumar.
The chicks were brought to the UT forest and wildlife department on Tuesday by Chandigarh Pet Lovers’ Association President Vinod Kumar ‘Sonu’, who was alerted by one of the excited onlookers.
A crowd of 150 persons had nearly mobbed the traumatised chicks on the roadside. The circumstantial evidence that pointed to the fact that the owls were dumped at the spot is indicated by the factors - no owl droppings/pellets or excreta in the hollow or around the tree, no sign of parent birds in the tree or neighbouring trees or a nesting hollow up in the tree, no tree has been cut in the vicinity from where the chicks could have fallen out, no injury to chicks shows they had not fallen out, the chicks were bunched together in the base hollow and around it; if they had fallen out they would have dispersed; and finding seven chicks bunched together is an abnormal sign under the given circumstances.
Since the UT forest and wildlife department had erroneously fed the carnivorous owls bread pieces and Cerelac that could lead to intestinal congestion, the zoo team of senior veterinary officer Dr MP Singh and his assistants, John Daniel, Harnek Singh, Raghbir Singh and Sudhir Kumar, set about immediately to de-stress the birds.
“The first 72 hours is crucial for their survival due to stress-induced mortality. Judging from the soft beak/claws, the chicks are about a month old. The chicks must pass the stool to show they are digesting normally. We have maintained the cage temperature at above 20°C, provided medicated water and chicken keema, and administered anti-stress and booster tonics orally. My assistants will be monitoring the chicks through the night and light will be cut for some hours to provide natural habitat of darkness to chicks,” said Dr Singh.
Administering medicine or food forcibly is fraught with risk because owls are equipped with an S-shaped arrangement of cervical vertebrae.
“This allows them a 360 degree vision and a head turn of 270 degrees, but force feeding by non-technical persons can cause death due to respiratory complications,” explained Dr Singh.