Migratory grey pelicans ate fish infected with roundworms in Srikakulam, which caused their deaths, according to forensic reports
CORRIGENDUM: This story was corrected January 30, 2022 to correctly reflect a grey pelican on the cover image instead of a painted stork as originally published. The error is regretted.
Around 130 grey pelicans have died in Telineelapuram village, in the Tekkali mandal of Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh, in the last one month. The cause of death has been found to be nematode (roundworm) infestation.
The first bird was found dead under a tree December 28, 2021, by local forest officials.
“The birds fall from trees and die in one to two hours,” PV Sastry, forest range officer of Tekkali Forest Range, told Down To Earth.
Grey pelicans fall in the ‘Near Threatened’ category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Grey pelicans and painted storks come to various parts of Andhra Pradesh from Siberia during winters for breeding.
Sastry said the birds ate fish from nine water tanks used for aquaculture that were spread across 1,500 acres of the village. They also ate at some local ponds in the Naupuda swamp.
“We took the bird’s sample to the Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (ADDL) in Srikakulam city for a postmortem to know the cause of death. Preliminary findings showed that that it was parasitic infection,” Sastry said.
He added that since December, officials had seen over 130 birds dying and had continued to find one or two dead birds every day.
“The birds feed from the aquaculture pond and when we took a fish sample to the ADDL, the same parasite was found in it too,” Sastry said.
He added that while painted storks and pelicans fed from the same tanks of the Naupuda swamp, the storks didn’t die as they ate smaller fish and in smaller numbers while the pelicans ate 1-2 kgs of fish in one go from the deeper ends of the tanks.
“The pelicans go deep into the ponds to catch fish. These birds go around 150-200 km for feeding and nesting, but we have only tested the samples of fish and water from these nine tanks. We cannot be sure whether other water bodies are also infected or not,” Sastry added.
Baikunth Rao, a forest watchman, said he had buried more than 100 birds during the past one month. “I bury the dead birds near the village trees. But it is sad to see them dying in such large numbers,” he said, sounding concerned.
Sastry added that the veterinary department of the district had suggested administering one dose of 0.1 ml of piperzene liquid through the oral route to treat the birds.
“The veterinary department said it takes 2-3 hours for the birds to die once they fall down from trees. If we are able to give them the medicine within that time, we may be able to save the grey pelicans in Telineelapuram,” he said.
“We need to save these birds as they are near threatened and come to Srikakulam for breeding. So, their population should increase, not go down,” Sastry noted.
He added that the forest department had initiated talks with the fisheries department in the district to take care of the water tanks and rid the fish of parasites with proper cleaning and medication.
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