After the outbreak of bird flu and the Covid-19 pandemic, Karnataka’s bird sanctuaries have seen a dip in the number of visitors.
Puttmadhe Gowda, deputy range forest officer of the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, informed The Observer: “We saw a major dip after the Covid-19 lockdown. However, the footfall steadily increased after November. But since January, due to the bird flu scare and schools reopening, there is a slight drop in the visitors’ count.”
The Ranganathittu sanctuary, located in Srirangapatna taluk, attracts lakhs of people, between November and May, who come to see more than 200 species of migratory birds. This year, footfalls have shown a steady decline.
“The behaviour of birds nestling is under watch. Any unnatural death of birds will be immediately reported. The visitors’ area is being sanitised as a precaution,” said Gowda.
The birdhouse in Mysuru’s Karanji lake has been closed since January. “Footfalls in the lake have seen a downfall of 30-40% since January. We have been sanitising more often now amid the bird flu fear,” said Mohan Kumar, a guard at the lake.
Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, Mysuru, has also seen a fall in the number of visitors. The zoo management has been adhering to precautions after a bird flu outbreak in 2017.
The forest department has sounded a high alert across the state following the bird flu outbreak in the country.
Far of the bird flu in the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) is almost negligible, said Dr Manjunath V, a senior veterinarian. “We have only caged birds here. The virus is seen in migratory birds. However, if we find any positive cases, we’ll lock that particular area.”
“Whenever there is a bird flu outbreak in the country, the BBP stops feeding carnivorous animals with chicken as a precautionary measure,” said Manjunath.
Sandy T, a consultant at Karnataka Tourism, said the department is incurring a loss of Rs 5,000 crore every month. “The bird sanctuaries have experienced a double blow. Revival cannot be predicted now as the pandemic and the flu are still ongoing.”
The Union Budget has disappointed the tourism sector by not offering relief to the industry. “With the ongoing pandemic, investing in tourism is futile. All we can do now is release precautionary tourism guidelines. The Karnataka government was the first government to release tourism guidelines in the country,” Sandy added.
Bird flu was first discovered in 2006. India has experienced 14 outbreaks since then. In 2020, the country recorded the second-highest avian influenza outbreak. Every year, the department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries says that migratory birds are behind the bird flu outbreak. However, with no serious precautions taken, these rare migrant varieties too face the threat of avian influenza every year.
The bird flu has impacted the poultry industry as well. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, India, which is among the five biggest poultry producers, suffers huge losses every year.
In February, Russia registered the first case of H5N8 influenza strain in a human. “This is repeatedly happening every year because of the change in climatic conditions. Environmental conditions play a huge role in virus mutation. Taking precautionary measures only during the outbreak is useless,” said Dr Anthony PU, retired head of the zoology department at Christ, said.
“Now with the mutation infecting humans, it’s high time the government gives importance to curing this epidemiology,” he added.
With the country experiencing a second wave of Covid-19, and the never-ending bird flu cycle impacting, the road to recovery for bird sanctuaries looks distant.