Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Surajpur wetland partially off limits; Task force to keep eye out for bird flu

Noida: The divisional forest department, Gautam Budh Nagar, on Thursday restricted access to certain areas of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and closed the Surajpur wetland for visitors as a preventive measure against bird flu.

Forest department officials inspected the Okhla Bird Sanctuary on Thursday to check for any unusual death of avifauna, after which they issued precautionary warnings. Officials said that a surveillance team will also be deployed at Dhanauri wetland to keep an eye out for any unusual activity as, for now, restricting access to the Dhanauri wetland is beyond their jurisdiction.

“We have closed access to the two watchtowers and the wooden bridge that connects land with the towers, in wake of the possibility of bird flu as cases have already been reported in Rajasthan and other states. Certain areas at the Okhla Bird Sanctuary have been temporarily shut due to their proximity with water bodies and water birds. However, the road between gate number one and two of Okhla Bird Sanctuary, which is over three kilometre long, will stay open,” said PK Srivastava, divisional forest officer (DFO) of the district.

The Okhla Bird Sanctuary spreads over 400 hectares and recorded 21,061 water-birds of 115 species in the annual census conducted by the forest department in February 2020 for the birding year of 2019-20.

Srivastava added that access to Surajpur wetland will be barred till further orders.

“The Surajur wetland is anyway a reserve forest, which means access to visitors was always subject to the department’s choice. We had kept it open so far for visitors, but in wake of the threat of bird flu, we have decided to restrict entry for some time. At Dhanauri, we will deploy a surveillance team to check for any symptoms of flu. Since the region is yet to be declared a reserve area, we don’t have power to restrict entry to it,” added the DFO.

The Surajpur wetland recently saw a census on January 2 counting a total of 3,107 birds of 40 species, against 2,092 birds from a total of 39 species in January 2020.

Task force formed

With migratory birds flocking to the city’s wetlands as the annual birding season peaks, and a number of poultry farms operating in the region, the administration has formed a district-level task force and a rapid response team to keep an eye out for any plausible case of bird flu.

So far, no case of avian flu has been reported in the district or in Uttar Pradesh, but cases have come up in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.

According to experts, symptoms such as salivation from beak and eyes, uncoordinated wings, diarrhea and paralysis in birds suggest bird flu. The forest department on Friday urged people to report such cases if they come across any.

Officials said the teams, comprising officials from the divisional forest department and the district veterinary department, have been constituted to check any unusual death of wild or farm birds to check for bird flu and take preventive measures.

“The district-level task force has been formed to trace and report any sign of bird flu in the city. So far there has been no case of bird flu in the city, but the task force has been formed as a preventive measure. It is better to be safe than sorry,” said Suhas LY, district magistrate.

“The three-member rapid-response team has been constituted with two members from the forest department and one from the veterinary department. The team will conduct inspections in two phases – first will cover all water bodies and second phase will include poultry farms. So far, we have not seen any unusual deaths among migratory or resident birds,” said Srivastava.

The forester added that there could be some deaths among crows and pigeons in the city which is usual in this season, but they will still collect the carcasses to be sure.

“In the winter season, there are always cases of a few deaths among birds like crow and pigeon due to lack of protein. What we are looking for are unusual deaths, but we will also keep an eye on usual deaths just to be sure. We also urge people to report at our helpline 91-9412492985,” Srivastava added.

The forest department’s warning also cautions people from touching any dead bird and to wash their gear and shoes after returning from birding sites.

No need to panic, say vets

Meanwhile, the chief veterinary officer (CVO) urged the people not to panic.

“Our teams are vigilant and staff of all 20 government veterinary hospitals across the district is on high alert. The teams will keep an eye on poultry farms as well. We urge people not to panic as the city has not seen any case or bird flu yet but if it happens, we are ready to deal with it,” said Dr Virendra Kumar Srivastava, CVO, GB Nagar.

Meanwhile, the experts including the frontline staff who had dealt with the crisis earlier state that strong vigilance is the only way out to avoid the flu from spreading.

“The epicenter of the flu has not been found but we are all vigilant, which is the best measure. Any carcass of dead bird must be inspected and disposed under certain protocols, which includes wrapping it in polybags and then either deep burying or incinerating it. So far, we have not seen any case at the Sambhar Lake,” said Dr Arvind Mathur, an expert and veterinary officer, Sambhar Lake, Rajasthan.

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