A zo­ol­o­gist who saved birds from dy­ing of hunger

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTSPOTLIGH­T - Badri Chat­ter­jee badri.chat­terje@hin­dus­tan­times.com

MUM­BAI: Three weeks into the lock­down im­posed due to the Covid-19 pan­demic, the sud­den death of around 30 birds, mostly crows, over two days (April 11 and 12) within and around the Smt Chandibai Hi­math­mal Man­sukhani (CHM) Col­lege cam­pus in Ul­has­na­gar, Thane district, came as a shock for col­lege staff and res­i­dents.

The col­lege prin­ci­pal Manju Pathak ex­plained that prior to the lock­down, birds used to feed on leftovers of the col­lege can­teen, and grains left daily by com­muters on roads that run along the pe­riph­ery of the col­lege lo­cated op­po­site Ul­has­na­gar rail­way sta­tion.

“Fol­low­ing the lock­down, this stopped. On April 11 two birds died, and a day later 24 more in­clud­ing crows and pi­geons were found dead across the cam­pus. A vet­eri­nar­ian who had con­ducted a post mortem on one of the birds told us that they died ow­ing to the lack of food and wa­ter,” Pathak said.

On April 11, when Sarita Khan­chan­dani, 43, a zo­ol­o­gist and for­mer school teacher learnt about the in­ci­dent, she con­tacted the col­lege prin­ci­pal and asked per­mis­sion to set up bird feed­ers in­side the col­lege.

In the weeks that fol­lowed, only one more bird died, Pathak said. How­ever, Khan­chan­dani was still per­turbed. “I needed to do some­thing more for the species that can­not voice their con­cerns,” she said.

Khan­chan­dani man­aged to ac­quire plas­tic con­tain­ers and pet bot­tles from lo­cal gro­cers while col­lect­ing melamine or plas­tic plates from ho­tels and restau­rants. She also col­lected wires and ca­bles. With this plas­tic refuse, Khan­chan­dani made 541 bird feed­ers over the course of the next two months.

“It’s sim­ple, you drill a hole in the cen­tre of the plate. Then plas­tic con­tain­ers are at­tached on top us­ing nut bolts. By mak­ing a few more holes on ei­ther side of the con­tainer or bot­tle, a bunch of ca­bles or wires are passed through them to en­sure they are sturdy when hung from trees or el­e­vated ar­eas. Next, feed­ers were filled with mil­let or rice grains.”

With the help of lo­cal se­cu­rity staff and teenagers from her colony, she in­stalled th­ese feed­ers across Ul­has­na­gar, Am­ber­nath, and a few more ar­eas of Thane district. “We en­sured th­ese feed­ers were placed in ar­eas gen­er­ally fre­quented by birds. We re­ceived videos from [res­i­dents] and re­alised not just birds but even squir­rels were us­ing them.”

Such ef­forts mainly help make peo­ple aware of the re­spon­si­bil­ity we have as cit­i­zens, said ex­perts. “His­tor­i­cally, the ar­chi­tec­ture of houses were such that were nooks and cran­nies around homes where birds could make nests, and peo­ple would leave grains but as cities be­came more cos­mopoli­tan, the ar­chi­tec­ture changed, re­duc­ing space for them,” said Su­nil Li­maye, ad­di­tional prin­ci­pal chief con­ser­va­tor of for­est (wildlife), Ma­ha­rash­tra. “She (Khan­chan­dani) has done a stu­pen­dous job ...”.

Of the com­mon birds found across cities, more than crows, pi­geons had trou­ble find­ing food dur­ing the lock­down, said Deepak Apte, di­rec­tor, Bom­bay Nat­u­ral His­tory So­ci­ety adding, “Such ef­forts need to be en­cour­aged...”.

“Khan­chan­dani’s ef­forts are a re­minder for all of us for do­ing a tad bit morew,” Pathak said.

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