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Bird Flu: Kashmir on alert

By Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar
February 23, 2006 15:25 IST
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Already rattled by news about spread of bird flu virus in some parts of Maharastra, Kashmiris are faced with a high alert from the local Wildlife department as migratory birds from the plains of the country start arriving in Srinagar on journey back to their summer homes.

Mohammad Shafi Bacha, the local Wildlife Warden does not want to sound alarmist, but what he says is quite serious. "The beginning of Spring is really the high risk period for us to be on the maximum alert. You see migratory birds from the plains and also from wetlands in Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, Maharashtra and Gujarat start arriving in Srinagar this time on their return journey to summer homes in China, Western Europe and Russain Siberia.

Bird Flu: Complete Coverage

These birds stay for short periods, but if any one of them is a carrier of the H5N1 virus it is likely that the virus can get carried to the stocks of local ducks and geese and thence to the local poultry as the domestic ducks and geese share the wetland environment of the migratory birds in places where human habitations exist in close proximity of the natural reserves of the migratory birds."

Bacha also said three species of the migratory birds that come to Kashmir every winter are believed to have acted as potential carriers of the virus in those parts of the world where the migratory birds had been responsible for the arrival of the bird flu virus.

"These three species are the Brown Headed Gull, the Cormorant and the Bar-Headed Geese. Of these three, the Cormorant comes to Srinagar for a short period in the spring and we call it bird of the passage. But, the Bar-Headed Geese stay for breeding in the Ladakh region for a few months and that puts the area on high risk," he said.

The wildlife warden also said in 2005 over 8 lakh migratory birds came to Kashmir from Western Europe, China and the Russian Siberia.

As the news about the spread of the dreaded bird flu virus in parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat starts reaching the nook and corner of Kashmir more and more locals are restraining themselves from using poultry and poultry products.

Interestingly, the official advisories that there is no reason for alarm are simply falling on deaf ears.

The state government has already banned the entry of poultry and poultry products into the state, which reach Srinagar mostly from the neighbouring states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

M.K. Turki, the joint director of the local animal health department says teams of his department's experts who have been provided with the lastest equipments and sample collection kits are visiting different parts of the state. "There is no reason whatsoever for panic. We have no report of any bird deaths that could be pinned to the dreaded H5N1 virus so far," Turki said in Srinagar.

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Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar
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