Save Delhi’s Birds of Prey
When the scorching sun becomes unbearable, the black kites around our office take respite at our glass-covered office windows. If someone spots it, it’s a ritual to tell the whole office about it. Sometimes we are all amazed by the beauty of this raptor when we discover it. The kite then takes to the skies, more majestic than ever, leaving us all wondering what it must be like to soar above all of us and measure the sky with your wings. However, a brief visit to Wildlife Rescue in Wazirabad tells us another story. It shows us the extent of the vulnerability of these birds as they lie there in boxes, injured, even struggling to get up.
As we walked through the narrow lanes of Wazirabad to the Wildlife Rescue office, we were greeted by the shrill whinnying of a black kite. We both looked at each other with equal fascination, and then he continued his usual walk around the office, constantly trying to get a flight but repeatedly failing. From further inside the office came the voices of several other birds, lying there, recovering from their injuries. As Mohd Saud, the president of Wildlife Rescue walks in, he tells us that these birds have been kept here with special care. Salik Rehman, Saud’s cousin, spends most of his day at the office tending to these birds. That’s when a kid from the neighborhood boy interrupts our conversation to bring a sick little chick into Saud’s care.
Saud tells us that since he and his older brother Nadeem Shehzad were children, their father took them to feed these birds of prey. Thus, these birds were an integral part of their childhood. They spent their childhood in Shahganj, Old Delhi, where they rescued small animals like kittens and pigeons. It was around the age of 11-12 of Saud and 14-15 of Nadeem that they found an injured black kite and decided to take him to a very well-known hospital in Old Delhi, the Charity Bird Hospital. However, hospital workers refused to treat the bird due to its dietary needs. They received a similar response from every other hospital whose doors they knocked on. At the end of the day, with heavy hearts, they decided to put the bird back where they found it and the next day it was gone.
They encountered such injured birds from time to time, but knew that no one would help them. Until one day in 2003, they decided to take responsibility for taking care of these injured raptors and brought home an injured kite. “There was a vet in our relationship and we took this bird to him. However, due to the nature of the injuries, this bird could no longer fly and remained with us for twelve years. We began to take care of injured birds of prey on a regular basis. People around us also started bringing injured birds to us. Some of them flew while others couldn’t. However, these birds have become a big part of our lives. After almost seven years of this, the brothers decided to register their charitable trust in 2010 under the name “Wildlife Rescue”.
While reminiscing about the early days of Wildlife Rescue, Saud recalls, “A little girl came to us with an injured bird. I asked her if she was not afraid of it, to which she replied that if she had remained afraid, she could not have saved his life. It made me so happy and hopeful. I could almost see myself in her.
Saud tells us that one of the main causes of injury to these birds is kites. It’s rather ironic that the glass-covered wire used to fly paper kites in the sky takes away the flight of a living bird, sometimes, forever. He says, “On Independence Day and on many occasions kite flying is a very popular activity. However, what people don’t realize is how dangerous it is for the birds in the sky. We have now established links with several bird hospitals across Delhi. They are now sending all the wounded birds of prey to us. Along with this, we have also linked up with the Forest Department and the Delhi Fire Service on this. »
Presenting a sad reality before us, Saud tells us that while they only received around 500 cases from 2003 to 2010, in recent years they treat around 2,500 to 2,600 birds each year. Citing the cause for the same, Saud says the population of birds of prey has increased in the nation’s capital, due to the large slaughterhouses in Delhi which provide food for these scavengers. However, because they consume similar foods daily, their nutritional needs remain incomplete, causing an increase in cases of malnutrition in these birds. It has also led to an increase in cases of metabolic bone disease in chicks. Instances of road accidents of these birds are also becoming frequent as the birds, when on the roads, are extremely dangerous. Another big reason for injury in birds is the fights they have with each other during the nesting and breeding season.
With climate change making headlines and the recent rise in mercury in Delhi, I asked Saud how this environment affects birds. To that, he says, “Due to the rise in temperatures that we have recently witnessed, cases of dehydration in birds have doubled this season.” While talking about how poor air quality affects birds, he tells us that it adds to cases of heavy breathing in birds, but no major damage has been found. Apart from this, cases of electric shocks and burns during Diwali are also common. This is how human activities directly affect the health of these precious birds. We call them valuable because Saud tells us they help keep the city clean.
Emphasizing why these birds of prey are important to the environment, Saud says: “They eat the extra flesh that is thrown away by slaughterhouses. Without them, it could give rise to many diseases. In a way, they control our health and maintain balance in the environment. Thus, they play a crucial ecological role.
Apart from kites, the place is also a home for several other birds ranging from owls, hawks, vultures, falcons to migratory birds like black-headed gulls, cranes, marsh harriers and falcons eurasians.
Saud takes us to the patio of his house where hundreds of birds reside, some local, some exotic in an enclosure with an opening in one corner. Saud says, “We call this version soft. When a bird recovers enough to take flight, it is free to pass through the opening. If they cannot find food or water in the wild, they are also free to come back for a meal. Here live all the birds that are in their recovery phase. In our office we keep birds that need special care. Giving us a tour of the birds’ home, he pulls out three kites to take them to the office, telling us that due to dehydration they can’t open their eyes and therefore need special attention. .
In the basement of the same building, in an almost claustrophobic space, where they run the operations of their manufacturing business, is a small booth they use for bird processing. This draws another irony from the fact that a creature, destined to fly high in the skies, is somehow given its life and flight in such an enclosed space, under the ground.
Shedding light on another sad truth, Saud tells us that bird habitat is becoming scarce as the city is urbanized. He says: “Before, the houses were designed in such a way that there was room for the birds to come and sit. They could even breed in the small windows of old houses. However, with rapid urbanization, there is almost no habitat left for these birds. People complain that house sparrows have become a rare sight in the city. Just 500m from here is the Yamuna River, where hundreds of these birds reside because they find their favorable habitat there.
A recent documentary, “All That Breathes”, based on these brothers and their work, is receiving worldwide acclaim and acclaim. After shining at the Sundance film festival earlier this year, the film recently premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and won the L’Œil d’Or or Golden Eye award. While we asked Saud how this will help their cause, he tells us that it will allow for international recognition and therefore international funding. He further tells me that up until a few years ago, around 2015, around 95% of the total cost of wildlife rescue operations would come out of the brothers pocket. In recent years, they have received several sponsorships. Saud hopes to get more international support and funding in the future for the sustainability of their initiative.
When we asked him what he would like the people of Delhi to do differently to help these birds, he replied, “Please ban the kite. What is a leisure activity for you can be deadly for the birds. Apart from that, if you have imprisoned a bird, please release it. The bird is made to fly in the sky, do not take away its freedom.
In the future, Saud hopes that in India more research will be done on bird surgeries and there will be more avian vets to treat birds, especially raptors.