Mysterious death of migratory birds at Pong dam lake leads to blanket ban on tourism

A thousand migratory birds found dead in last few days in wetland has led to a ban on all activities around the lake. A census on Dec 15 found there were 57,000 birds of 114 species at the wetland

Mysterious death of migratory birds at Pong dam lake leads to blanket ban on tourism

Bipin Bhardwaj

Mystery shrouds the death of a large number of migratory birds, largely the bar-headed geese, in Pong Dam Lake. It is an international wetland site in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The death count has gone over to 1000 in the past one week.

HP Wildlife department have sent carcsses of some birds to different laboratories to ascertain the cause of death. Taking a serious view of the situation, district magistrate Kangra, Rakesh Kumar Prajapati, has imposed a blanket ban on any kind of activity in and around the Pong Dam reservoir.

Exercising his powers under Section 34 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the District Magistrate, no human and domestic livestock activities shall be allowed in and around 1km peripheral area of the reservoir till further orders. The next 9 km peripheral area of the Alert Zone has been declared as a Surveillance Zone, where all departments shall keep a vigil. The DM has also ordered to suspend all tourist activities in the reservoir besides deployment of adequate police force to enforce the restrictions.

Chief Conservator, Wildlife Upasana Patyal informed that more than 1,000 migratory birds have died as of now. Besides the bar-headed goose, the other species found dead were identified as the shoveller, the river tern, the black-headed gull and the common teal. The carcasses have been sent to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly, the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RDDL) in Jalandhar and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun to ascertain the cause of death.

The wildlife experts are alarmed because the carcasses were found at multiple locations. Similar mysterious deaths of birds have also been reported from Indore (Madhya Pradesh) and Jhalawar (Rajasthan), they informed.

Deaths at the Pong Dam Wetlands were first reported on December 28, 2020. A search of the entire sanctuary led to the discovery of 421 birds. The postmortm examinations however ruled out death due to poisoning, a wildlife official claimed. The state Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania, warned that strict action would be taken against people found guilty of foul play or negligence.

Pong wetlands are home to lakhs of winged visitors of nearly 114 species annually. Among them the bar-headed geese, the northern pintail, the Eurasian coot, the common teal, the common pochard, the northern shoveller, the great cormorant, the Eurasian wigeon and the ruddy shelduck are notable.

As per the census conducted in wetland on December 15, around 57,000 migratory birds were recorded and prominent among them were the bar-headed geese, a rare winter migrant in other Indian wetlands.

The Pong wetlands occupy an area of at least 18,000 hectares and extend up to 30,000 hectares in the peak monsoon season. An area of about 20,000 hectares within a radius of 5 km has been notified as a buffer zone dedicated to wildlife. The large reservoir and its strategic location in the extreme north-west of the northern plains has attracted migratory birds from the plains of India and Central Asian countries and Siberia.

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Published: 02 Jan 2021, 8:19 PM