KARACHI, Aug 9: Acute financial difficulties and the absence of a strong veterinary unit in the wildlife department, which can immediately provide help to injured and ailing wildlife species, are some major reasons that explain official failure in effectively dealing with the outbreak of Newcastle disease in Mithi and its adjoining areas, said experts while speaking to Dawn.
The need for a veterinary unit has been a long-awaited requirement of the wildlife department and was felt more seriously after the outbreak of Peste des Petits Ruminants — a highly contagious viral disease of wild and domestic small ruminants — that claimed the lives of more than 80 ibex in Khirthar National Park in 2009, according to the experts.
The Khirthar National Park is a site protected under the provincial wildlife ordinance.
The experts said that if lessons had been learnt from the past disaster, the deaths of peacocks in Mithi could have been prevented.
They said that a list of recommendations forwarded to the government after the situation was brought under control in the Khirthar National Park also included establishment of laboratories and induction of vets in the wildlife department which, they
added, still needed to be implemented.
“The wildlife department has the experience of dealing with this kind of outbreak [a viral disease] when the ibex died a couple of years ago. This could have been applied here. But now it is a bit late,” observed Rab Nawaz, representing the World Wide Fund
for Nature (WWF), which is conducting a survey of the affected villages on a government request.
Mentioning some flaws in the government’s response, the WWF regional director said that the wildlife department should have allocated more resources for it and taken the outbreak a bit more seriously when it was in its initial stage.
Regarding the number of peacock mortalities, he said: “The WWF officials hardly observed any additional mortality in villages they visited over the past three days though the team witnessed peacock remains in tens not in hundreds during its first visit
last week. So far, eight villages have been affected,” he said, adding that the government did act but they simply didn’t have the resources to promptly react.
A viral outbreak, he said, was very difficult to control without huge resources and the job became harder if one was attending to wild population which was even hard to access.
Experts like Dr Khuda Bux Mirbahar, dean faculty of animal health and veterinary sciences at the Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam, was, however, more critical.
“If there were any government strategy on the ground, the situation could not have aggravated. There is a complete absence of a dedicated and organised human effort to control the outbreak,” he said, adding that the government should have immediately
evolved a strategy by taking all relevant departments on board.
Dr Allah Bux Kuchiwal, assistant professor at the department of animal surgery and obstetrics at the university, who visited the affected areas last month, believed that so far more than 200 peacocks had died of the disease and rejected the official claim
that peacock mortalities were between 30 and 40.
“During my visit, I examined more than 30 birds in one day. There were a few casualties from the same disease last year too, but on-time arrival of rain helped in preventing the disease from spreading further. This year, however, birds became vulnerable to
the infection because of a delay in rains,” he said.
Mr Kuchiwal was of the opinion that the outbreak could have been controlled if the government had involved local communities in the rescue operation.
Ailing birds, he said, needed human support for at least four days to regain some strength until they start eating on their own again.
“All they need is medicated feed and vaccine-mixed water. But an affected bird cannot eat or drink on its own and requires human help,” he explained.
The wildlife department, he said, had no expertise in handling an ailing animal and there was a dire need that vets were made part of the department that must have a network of mobile teams.
“There is only one veterinary hospital in Mithi, which is under the livestock department, and the hospital staff attends to animals brought there,” he said while blaming the government for the delay in response and lack of coordination between
Upon contact, Hussain Baksh Bhagat, a former wildlife conservator, who is part of the government team currently visiting Mithi, said that he had personally visited 15 villages so far and found peacock mortalities only in two villages.
Without mentioning any name, he blamed certain ‘vested interests’, including some non-governmental organisations, working in the area for bringing a bad name to the department.
He said: “We have approached the people and talked to them directly. The mortalities are not more than 50 in the affected villages. The team has also visited the villages where according to media reports peacocks have died. But the locals have told us
that there was no death.”
He admitted that the government should have devised a preventive strategy considering the fact that the same disease had caused death of peacocks last year in the same area, but added that currently all relevant departments were on board and teams
were already working in the affected villages. The government had approved a plan for setting up laboratories and appointment of vets this year and it would be implemented next year, he said, while seeking positive support from the media.