by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
NEW DELHI, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- Joint teams of animal husbandry, disaster management, forest, wildlife and municipal corporation are rummaging areas in and around a lake in India's western state of Rajasthan for the carcasses of migratory birds, officials said Sunday.
The teams are collecting carcasses of the birds and burry them inside deep pits.
Migratory birds that used to visit the lake from far-off places to spend winter around the lake this year are dying, with the reason behind still unconfirmed.
The carcasses of around 15 species of migratory birds, according to officials, were found scattered along the banks of Sambhar Salt Lake, about 80 km southwest of the Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.
"From Monday to yesterday evening figures available with us show 10,700 carcasses have been collected by the joint teams during their search," Arindam Tomar, Chief Wildlife Warden, Rajasthan told Xinhua. "In the second round until noon today, 90 such carcasses have been found and the search is underway."
Sambhar Salt Lake is India's largest inland salt lake and a prime wintering spot for tens of thousands of migratory birds.
Although authorities collected viscera of birds and sent samples for testing to ascertain the actual cause of their death, the reason remains unknown.
"The tests conducted at Bhopal laboratory have ruled out avian flu as the cause behind deaths," Tomar said. "The animal husbandry department has now sent fresh samples to Bhopal and other places."
Ornithologists are struggling to understand the reason for such large-scale deaths of migratory birds.
"Now there are assumptions that deaths might have been caused because of avian botulism," Tomar said. "Unless there is no specific scientific evidence to this claim we have to wait."
Experts say avian botulism occurs when birds feed on toxic substances.
According to Tomar, the carcasses of migratory birds are properly disposed of to ensure botulism does not spread to other birds.
Locals said the carcasses were being collected in tractor-trolleys from the catchment areas spreading over 12 km, and buried in a deep ditches.
The unusual deaths of migratory birds have triggered scare among the residents.
"It is for the first time we are witnessing deaths of migratory birds and that too at this scale," Atul Triloki, a local said. "There is a dire need that government should get to the bottom of this problem and ensure that it will not affect humans."
According to officials, the birds that were found dead include Northern Shoveller, Brahminy Duck, Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover and Tufted Duck.
The lake, which is protected as a world heritage site, also hosts flamingos, stilts, stints, garganey, gulls and other bird species.
Wildlife officials in Rajasthan said over 200,000 migratory birds, majority of them flamingos and waders arrive at the lake to spend winters. The migratory birds from Siberia, Mongolia and other places arrive at the Salt lake in November and stay here until March.
Forest department officials said between 20-25 bird species are found around the lake during winter period.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the death of birds near the lake was worrying and protecting the flora and fauna remains one of the priorities of his government.
Meanwhile, the Rajasthan high court questioned the state government on Friday for the reasons behind the death of these birds and has fixed Nov. 22 as the next date of hearing.