Rescuing kites & other birds from kite string
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
AHMEDABAD–Power lines over Ahmedabad looked like concertina
wire after a World War I trench charge on January 15, 2007, the day
after Makar Sankranti, the Hindu “Festival of the Sun.”
Wrecked kites fluttered everywhere, trailing deadly loops of
glass-coated nylon twine. More than 100 Animal Help volunteers
answered calls about wounded birds. Twelve ambulance teams stationed
at central points around the sprawling city relayed birds to the
Animal Help Foundation hospital, beside the River Sabarmati.
For 11 months the 28 Animal Help veterinarians did Animal
Birth Control program surgery at an unprecedented pace, sterilizing
more than 45,000 dogs in retrofitted city buses. In early January,
however, the ABC program shut down, to enable Animal Help to
refocus on birds.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated in western India and nearby
parts of Pakistan with kite-flying contests. Tens of thousands of
participants send kites aloft over most major cities. Reputedly more
than a million kites soar over Ahmedabad.
The flyers try to work their strings so as to saw through the
strings of rival kites. Glass-coated nylon twine gives flyers an
edge over anyone using natural fibers. But the glass-coated nylon
twine also creates a hazard that London Zoo chief veterinarian Andrew
Routh told ANIMAL PEOPLE is unique in his experience of 30-odd years
of bird rescue.
Conventional tangling injuries occur to some extent, Routh
explained, and resemble those seen among cormorants, gulls, and
pelicans who run afoul of fly-fishers along trout streams. Yet those
are the least of the Makar Sankranti problem.
At Makar Sankranti, Routh demonstrated, kites lift sharp
strings under tension, so that they become “giant cheese-slicers in
the air.” Birds riding the wind currents or diving on prey then fly
into the “cheese-slicers” at great velocity, suffering shoulder and
arm cuts that resemble sword-fighting wounds or the leg injuries of
horses who gallop into barbed wire.
Suddenly unable to fly, they fall where they hit, not
always able to spread their feathers enough to cushion the impact.
If the cuts are clean enough and the birds are sewn back
together before injuring themselves, they usually recover well
enough to be released, after days or weeks of care.
Routh brought with him from the London Zoo fellow
veterinarian Sorn Routh, his Thai wife, and bird handler Natalie
Reed. They have all responded to avian disasters in many parts of
the world, Routh said, including oil spills involving dozens of
times more birds than the record 750-plus kite-injured birds that
Animal Help rescued this year in Ahmedabad. However, Routh added,
the Ahmedabad situation is both exceptionally challenging and
encouraging, from a veterinary perspective, because skilled
intervention does save significant numbers of birds.
More than half of the victims are black kite-birds, a
scavenger species seeming to be especially vulnerable to kite strings
because they tend to fly with their eyes on the ground instead of the
sky in front of them.
Perhaps a third of the victims are pigeons, the most common
species in Ahmedabad.
The remainder include some of almost every flying species:
fruit bats, peafowl, ring-necked parakeets, kingfishers, rollers,
bulbuls, barn owls, sandpipers, godwits, Egyptian vultures, even
endangered white-rumped vultures and Sarus cranes.
Jain rescue societies adopt the birds who cannot be released,
Animal Help founder Rahul Sehgal told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Now an avid birder, Sehgal, 32, admits that just three
years ago he didn’t know one bird from another–but he saw the
problem, gambled that he could organize an effective response to it,
and hopes that similar response teams established in other cities can
raise public awareness to the point that the sale of glass-coated
plastic string will be banned.
Other kite injury response teams are fielded by CAPE-India of
Ludiana, under Sandeep K. Jain; the Karuna Trust, under Dharmendra
Sanghvi, whose teams worked this year in Thane, Surat, and Baroda;
and Help In Suffering, of Jaipur.
As in founding the Animal Help ABC program seven years ago,
and founding India’s first specialized animal disaster relief agency
two years ago, called Animal Help in Emergencies And Disasters,
Sehgal drew inspiration from the official history of Ahmedabad.
Sultan Ahmed Shah established the Muzaffarid dynasty capital beside
the River Sabarmati in 1411, the story goes, because while camping
beside the river he saw a hare chase a dog. Shah determined that
this must be a place where brave and determined individuals could do