Kite-flying festival prompts large-scale bird rescue in India

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Each year from January 14-16, the skyline in Ahmedabad comes alive with thousands of multi-colored kites soaring high, trying to out maneuver each other.

On these three days, the people of the state of Gujarat celebrate Makar Sankranti, also known as Uttarayan, and come out in large numbers in the fight of the kites. Weeks before the kite flying festival, the young and the old can be seen making their own kites and coating kite-strings (manja) with a paste of powdered glass and glue to make them razor sharp.

While the day brings smiles to the faces of thousands, it becomes a messenger of death for thousands of birds living in and around the city.

Teams from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) Emergency Relief Network from across India came to Ahmedabad the first week of January for a groundbreaking workshop.  

Topics focused only on the preparedness, response, and recovery efforts needed to lower the risks related to the annual kite flying festival. Experts presented on how to rescue injured birds, avian handling and transportation, veterinary triage, first aid and surgery; post-operative care, rehabilitation and release.

Over 50 attendees spent 3 days together training hard and collaborating on ways to increase awareness of the kite flying festival dangers for animals and humans alike.   

IFAW-WTI jumped right into action the next week with many of the workshop attendees to carry out relief work for the injured birds during and after the kite flying festival in western India.

Activities were carried out in 3 cities and over 400 birds were saved by the direct intervention of ERN responders.

In Bhavnagar, the team joined forces with the Forest Department of Gujarat and local organizations to provide surgical aid to 72 birds on the first of a two-day emergency operation in the city’s Pil garden.

The birds rescued primarily consisted of wetland species like painted stork, comb duck, great white pelican, black ibis, white ibis, little cormorant, and also rose-ringed parakeet, pigeons, mynah, peafowl, and others.

Most of the birds suffered severe soft tissue injuries on their wings. Our vets provided the necessary care to the injured birds. After intervention, the birds were taken to temporary rehabilitation at a Forest Department’s aviary in Victoria garden. After a few days, the recovered birds were released to the water body within Victoria garden.

Their quick reintroduction prevented the birds from suffering the stresses of captivity. All the birds have been tagged with bright colored tags to help identify them post release.

This year, better-coordinated efforts between the volunteers really helped provide timely aid to injured birds which brought down the mortality rate.

In Jaipur, an outreach grant was provided to an organization called Raksha with whom we had worked last year as well. As of 19th January, the team members of Raksha had rescued over 270 birds at their makeshift camps set up at four locations in Jaipur.

Most common species encountered by them was rock pigeon followed by black kite, red-wattled lapwing, cattle egret, owl, pond heron, and parakeet. The team members of Raksha have also been involved in widespread awareness activity in the schools and colleges of the city and felt this to be the reason for the decrease in the intensity of kite flying and resultant decline in the number of injured birds.

But not only were we able to help save birds, an opportunity for creative expression was born. A local group of volunteers in Surat were supported to help in clearing up of the stray kite threads from different localities in the city.

The team led by Mr. Palak Thakur collaborated with a local school which had offered its students to help in the process of thread collection. The students also took part in preparing handicraft items out of the waste manjha, or glass-coated thread. 

Our long-time partners from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) supported not only the pioneering workshop but the subsequent response using new, refined techniques to save lives, keep rescuers safe, and raise awareness about the dangers of this festival.

--SW

For more information about IFAW animal rescue efforts, visit our campaign page.

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Experts

Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy