Avian flu causing migratory birds’ death at HP’s Pong Dam, toll rises to 2,400

Lab reports expected on Tuesday, while post-mortem reports rule out poisoning
Wildlife officials collecting carcasses of birds that died under mysterious circumstances in the Pong wetland in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh over the past week.(HT Photo)
Wildlife officials collecting carcasses of birds that died under mysterious circumstances in the Pong wetland in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh over the past week.(HT Photo)
Published on Jan 04, 2021 09:54 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Dharamshala | ByNaresh K Thakur, Dharamshala

With the number of migratory birds dying at the Pong Dam wetland in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district on the rise for a week, the ICAR-National Institute of High Security Animal Disease has confirmed H5N1 virus as the cause of the fatalities.

More than, 2,400 birds of different species have been found dead at Pong Lake over the past week. Over 600 of them died on Monday. The reports of samples sent to laboratories are expected on Tuesday.

Preliminary results of five samples of Bar Headed Goose received for avian influenza testing at High-Security Animal Disease Laboratory, Bhopal have tested positive for the H5N1 virus, says a communication by the NIHSAD.

The wildlife officials at Dharamshala, also confirmed the report on condition of anonymity.

Wildlife authorities had sent 17 samples to Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, and five samples to the High-Security Animal Disease Laboratory (HSADL), Bhopal, to ascertain the cause of death. Earlier, the initial sample reports received from Veterinary Lab, Palampur and Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Jalandhar also pointed out flu- like symptoms.

Kangra deputy commissioner Rakesh Kumar Prajapati, who chaired a meeting with wildlife authorities to take stock of the situation said that Pong Lake area was already shut for activities like grazing, fishing, and tourism.

“As a precautionary measure, sale of poultry products and fish has been also banned in Fatehpur, Dehra, Jawali and Indora subdivisions,” said Prajapati.

The DC said that the samples were also being collected from poultry farms in the area and people have been told stop grazing and farming activities in peripheral areas.

BAR-HEADED GEESE WORST HIT

Most of the fatalities are being seen among bar-headed geese, the world’s highest-flying birds that migrate from far-off Siberia and Mongolia. Birds from other species such as the common teal, shoveler, river tern and black-headed gull were also found dead.

The Kangra district administration has banned all kind of activities, including fishing, grazing and boating, in 1-km area of the lake. The next 9-km area has been declared a surveillance zone.

The divisional forest officer (wildlife), headquarters, Devinder Singh Dadhwal, who has experience working in Pong Wetland, said that never have such a large number of bird deaths been reported from the area. “If it turns out to be avian flu, it would be for the first time in Pong Wetland,” he said adding that the wildlife sanctuaries and zoos in the region have also been put on alert.

The Pong Dam Wetland — an international Ramsar site — hosts more than 1 lakh migratory birds of 100 species that fly thousands of kilometres from Mongolia, Siberia, trans-Himalayan region and Central Asia in winter every year.

ANNUAL BIRD CENSUS MAY BE SUSPENDED

The wildlife authorities may have to suspend the annual avian count conducted in Pong wetland if the situation is not under control.

The three-day mega exercise is conducted in January and February.

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 winter, 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, Eurasian coot, common teal, common pochard, northern shoveler, the great cormorant, Eurasian pigeon and the ruddy shelduck.

The fortnightly census conducted on December 15, 2020, recorded around 57,000 migratory birds. Since 1988, as many as 425 bird species have been sighted in Pong wetland.

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