Bird watching amid flu fear | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 16, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 16, 2008

Bird watching amid flu fear

No precautionary steps for visitors' safety at JU

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Bird lovers, left, watch migratory birds, right, at the Brac Bank Pakhi Mela 2008 organised by the zoology department of Jahangirnagar University on the campus yesterday. The fair was held ignoring the bird flu epidemic sweeping across the country.Photo: STAR

A day long migratory bird watching fair was held on Jahangirnagar University (JU) campus yesterday without any precautionary measure to mitigate the chances of direct contact between visitors and the birds amid an epidemic of bird flu sweeping across the country.
The fair without any precaution took place despite warnings from the government and experts that extreme precaution should be ensured, so humans and wild birds do not come into direct contact since migratory birds are known to be carriers of avian influenza.
When asked about the lack of preventive measures, organisers said the chance of coming into contact with the birds was very little or almost negligible and they were telling the visitors to stay far away from the birds as they were also raising awareness among the visitors about bird flu.
An awareness raising pamphlet published by World Health Organisation (WHO) regional office for South East Asia however says, “Bird Flu (avian influenza) is caused by a virus. It is present in droppings, respiratory secretions, and blood of infected birds.”
So far bird flu was detected in 37 districts of the country.
“These birds are basically shy and if disturbed they fly away at once. If an individual approaches them, the birds will definitely fly away and there is a very little chance of any direct contact,” said Dr Mofizul Kabir, associate professor of the zoology department of JU who is also the convenor of the fair management committee.
“Although we suspect that migratory birds are the prime carriers of bird flu, no evidence has so far been found confirming the claim. There is however a possibility of bird flu spreading through the migratory birds,” he added.
The fair titled 'Brac Bank Bird Fair 2008' was organised jointly by the department of zoology of JU, Wildlife Rescue Centre (WRC), Step Media Ltd, and Brac Bank, attracting a large crowd of nature-loving people from the capital and its adjacent areas including university students who were seen yesterday watching birds through telescopes or by roaming around by the lakes on the campus.
“We have heard that bird flu might spread through feathers of birds or through eggs or saliva, and it might become disastrous if people are infected with the virus through wild animals,” said Inam-ul-Haq, a prominent bird watcher, adding however that none of the cases of bird flu transmission to human body was resulted from contact with wild birds. All cases of bird flu infection around the globe were resulted from direct contact with domestic birds, he said.
Although migratory birds usually start to throng the evergreen JU campus by the end of October, this year the guest birds arrived a month later in November and since then more than six thousand migratory birds' arrival has been recorded.
Zoology department sources said around 130 to 150 species of migratory birds are usually found on the JU campus, 95 to 100 of which are local, while 35 to 40 species are foreign.
The fair began early in the morning with visitors watching guest and local birds through two telescopes and several binoculars available on the campus.
The migratory birds enter Bangladesh mostly from the Himalayas as soon as winter snow starts to fall there in October, leaving the birds' usual habitat too cold to survive. They start to fly off again in March. Only seven to ten species of the guest birds usually settle on the lakes while others are known as migratory tree birds.
Birds that come from the wetlands and highlands south of the Himalayas are know as local migrants, who usually come from Asam, Meghalaya, and Nagaland in India. Some birds also migrate internally from the hilly areas of Bangladesh while some do come from as far as Siberia and other places in Mid-East Asia.
The migratory birds include 28 Bangladeshi species which come from places such as Hakaluki and Hyle lakes, Nijhum Dwip, shoals in the Jamuna River, Tangaor swamp in Sylhet, and from Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Vice-chancellor of JU Prof Khandaker Mustahidur Rahman inaugurated the fair.
A bird sketching competition, a photography exhibition, an art competition for children, and a quiz competition on birds were also held on the sidelines. Besides, an inter-university competition on bird identification was also held. Students of different private and public universities, and of schools and colleges took part in the competitions.
Ten kiosks displaying photographs, posters, calendars, tee-shirts, and cards on birds were also set up on the path leading to the university auditorium.
The fair closed in the afternoon by holding of a seminar following which competition winners were awarded with different prizes. The yearly fair has been being held on the JU campus since 2001.
Meanwhile, as conditions of most of the lakes on the campus have become unfriendly to the birds due to the university authority's reluctance to protect the habitat of birds, the campus is attracting lesser numbers of migratory birds every year. Now migratory birds can be seen floating only on three lakes on the campus. The birds use the lakes during daytime and wander into the adjacent paddy fields near the river at night in search of food.
Study revealed that the number of migratory birds dropped due to drying up of the lakes, cultivation of napier grass in the lakes, water pollution, and lack of measures to preserve their habitat.
A survey by the Department of Zoology of JU shows that the rate of decline in the number of migratory birds to JU each year varies between 15 percent and 20 percent
Moreover, some species even completely stopped coming to the campus including Harial, which was last seen there in 2004.
The species of migratory birds that are seen in JU lakes during winter include Lesser Whistling Duck or Chhoto Sharali, Fulvous Whistling Duck or Boro Sharali, Northern Pintail or Lanja Duck, Garganey or Giria Duck, Common Till, Yellow Wagtail or Halud Khanjana, Wagtail or Khanjana, Common Sandpiper or Kada Khocha, Wood Sandpiper, Painted Snipe or Rongila Chaga, Asian Quail, another type of Painted Snipe or Badami Kashai, Comb Duck, Moor Hen, Jolpipi, Water Hen or Jolkukkut, Shuichora, and Kampakhi.

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