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Wild Buzz: Bullets are faster

According to one estimate, 20% of falcons preying upon pigeons during competitions are shot in India while the mortality rate surges to 90% in Pakistan.

punjab Updated: Apr 21, 2018 22:57 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
A Peregrine falcon shot by pigeon fanciers, along with a white pigeon partially eaten by falcon; and (right) a female falcon in illegal captivity with wings cut by pigeon fancier.(Whatsapp)

The world’s fastest creature and one of the most studied of global birds, the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus calidus), is being slaughtered with impunity by rogue pigeon fanciers of Punjab. The falcon, which migrates from the Eurasian Arctic in autumn and stays on till April-May, is a prime target because it is an ace aerial predator of high-flyer pigeon breeds.

Gruesome videos and pictures of falcons shot illegally in Punjab or captured alive from roosting/eating spots on mobile towers have gone viral on Whatsapp groups of pigeon fanciers. There are YouTube videos of Punjab residents instructing pigeon hobbyists on how to trap and kill falcons, referred to in the vernacular as the ‘Behri/Bhyri.’ Captured falcons have their legs broken or are retained in illegal captivity with wings sliced off.

According to one estimate, 20% of falcons preying upon pigeons during competitions are shot in India while the mortality rate surges to 90% in Pakistan. Falcons are perceived as ‘Enemy No. 1’ by pigeon fanciers, akin to a shepherd’s hatred for a wolf preying upon his lambs.

Global award-winning pigeon breeder, Jalandhar-based Sarwan Singh Kler, told this writer: “Falcons are indeed shot by pigeon keepers as pigeons cost ₹5,000 to ₹10,000 each. However, the falcon is only obeying the natural instinct to prey on pigeons and it is not the falcon’s fault. A simple solution is to hold competitions in summer when falcons migrate back.”

Hunting falcons is illegal in India. The falcon also falls under the purview of the ‘Memorandum of understanding on conservation of migratory birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia,’ signed by India in 2016. However, the threat posed by pigeon fanciers to falcons has gone unrecognised by Central/state governments, NGOs and international raptor conservation bodies.


A cartoon by Rohit Shukla.

Amid the jungle glades of Seoni in Madhya Pradesh, an unusual scene unfolds. Birds twittering in the boughs and deer peering shyly from flowery bushes would observe a forest guard in uniform supervising the creation of fire lines. Simultaneously, his nimble fingers play upon an easel and his eyes oft adopt a vacant, faraway look. He is Rohit Shukla, an artist and empathetic champion of wildlife conservation who sketches and paints while on duty. The jungle art has so enthralled senior officers that Rohit’s sketches/cartoons are commissioned to educate/motivate field staff and impart instantly-popular messaging to the masses.

“As a child, I would shun games and wander alone into the Pench National Park. The jungles were enchanting and I was fascinated by little creatures like mongooses, squirrels, birds etc. I would grab leftover art material from friends and fulfil the urge to reimagine the jungle in sketches. I followed my passion as I grew up and got selected as a forest guard. On April 23, the chief minister will inaugurate an exhibition featuring my cartoons at Bandhavgarh,” Rohit told this writer.

His mentor is deputy conservator of forests, Rajnish K Singh, an officer passionate about conservation. Rohit’s cartoons revisualise the human-animal conflict via the victim’s eye. The guard’s art creatively explores frictional interfaces such as plight of animals killed by vehicles speeding through jungle homes and symbiotic ties between forests, tigers and fresh water sources.

Ages back, Seoni’s iconic jungles had captured Rudyard Kipling’s imagination, too, and ‘The Jungle Book’ had gushed forth from the felicity of his pen.


Dimple Bedi Kamra with rescued quail. ( Vikram Jit Singh )

Dimple Bedi Kamra has a wonderful way with wild wings. The latest induction to her menagerie — that colonises most parts of the Sector 16-kothi — was a female Common quail (bater) rescued from a Sector-28A park, having suffered a dislocated wing. Possibly, during night migration the bird got disoriented by city lights and crashed into an obstruction.

Wild birds are a bundle of raw nerves in the initial phases of captivity. They can aggravate injuries with excessive struggle and die from nervous shock and trauma. So, Kamra first calmed down the new refugee by immobilising her in a warm, micro-fibre towel and placed the cute bundle next to her shoulder like a baby being patted to sleep. The quail obliged and settled down, having also sensed by then that Kamra’s ministrations were benign.

The quail was later placed in a cage, force fed with water and imported Canadian bird food, and positioned close to other cages with recuperating birds. Avians twittering and chattering, scolding and squabbling, frolicking and feeding in the vicinity further helped quell the quail’s qualms and placed her on the road to speedy recovery.

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First Published: Apr 21, 2018 22:55 IST