'High salt content in water could have killed birds'

A civic worker rescues birds at the Sambhar Salt Lake in Rajasthan. PTI

Around 17,000 migratory birds have died so far around Sambhar Lake, the largest inland salt-water body in India, allegedly due to botulism, a neuromuscular illness caused by a toxin that is produced by a bacteria which is a major cause of mortality in wild birds since the 1900s.

However, wildlife experts suspect illegal salt mining activities in the area, 90km away from the state capital, to be the cause. Tourism & Wildlife Society of India (TWSI) honorary secretary Harsh Vardhan, who visited the lake a few days ago told DH, "Water contamination or high salt content in the water due to illegal salt mining in the belt could be one of the possible reasons for the birds’ deaths which could have been stopped by the strict monitoring by the Forest Department".

Dr Arvind Mathur, a veterinary doctor specialising with forest department added, "Another reason could be high sodium levels in the birds leading to paralysis." Mathur's reason also points fingers towards illegal salt mining.

In Jaipur alone, 8,500 birds have died so far. Jaipur District Collector Jagroop Singh Yadav assured that the carcasses have been disposed of with no risk of the disease being transferred to humans, but warned people against venturing into the area.

The wildlife department is stating botulism to be the possible cause for the death after the post-mortem of two bird carcasses by a Bikaner-based research organisation indicated it in the result. The report filed by the team from the College of Veterinary and Animal Science, Bikaner, had suggested avian botulism as the reason. But a Bhopal-based laboratory has ruled out avian flu as the cause. 

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has ordered making the state-level Wetland Authority operational as soon as possible in Rajasthan. The authority has the mandate of preserving and protecting all wetlands in the state including Sambhar lake.

In a review meeting on Tuesday on the ongoing rescue operations to save the birds in Sambhar lake region, Gehlot interacted with the collectors of Jaipur, Nagaur and Ajmer districts through video conference, and asked the officials to take all measures to save them. He sought to seek support from the Union government as well as ornithologists and NGOs from all over the country.

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