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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 24, June 15, 2024

Impact of Heat Wave on Birds and Animals | Bharat Dogra and Reena Yadav

Friday 14 June 2024, by Bharat Dogra

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While the heat wave and its many-sided adverse impacts have been widely discussed in recent times, one important aspect of heat waves has not received adequate attention and this relates to the impact on birds and animals.

Here an attempt is being made to examine the impact of the recent prolonged heat wave on all forms of life in the context of Bundelkhand region. Bundelkhand is one of the heat wave hot spots in India. It is spread over about 14 districts of Central India ( 7 in Uttar Pradesh and 7 in Madhya Pradesh).

Recently two worrying cases of large-scale bird deaths have been reported from Bundelkhand. In the first such case a large number of parrots and bats as well as some other birds were found dead in a park in Atarra town, in Banda district. In another case, in a park that is ironically called Oxygen Park, a large number of bats were found dead in Banda city.

Visibility of several birds has decreased significantly, raising concerns regarding them. Rampyari Yadav who lives in Atarra says, “ Earlier I used to feed sparrows almost daily near my kitchen. But now for almost a month I have not seen any sparrow.”

On the basis of general observation many people say that birds appear to be very vulnerable and weak.

A special feature of Bundelkhand region is the large number of cattle who are left free to roam. With no one to provide for them, they keep moving from one place to another in search of water and pastures. As the heat intensifies, water sources dry up and there is less and less to eat in the grasslands. From some places it has been reported that the extremely dry grasses even became harmful and as a result several of these cattle perished.

Bundelkhand’s forests have been badly depleted in recent decades and as a result wild life has already suffered badly, but during heat wave conditions their problems increase further as they cannot find water when they need this the most, for drinking as well as for cooling themselves.

As far as farm and dairy animals are concerned, although rural households try their best to protect them, but in the case of poorer households with very limited housing place there is a limit regarding the extent to which they can protect dairy and farm animals from heat wave conditions and arrange adequate water and fodder for them. Hence the distress of farm and dairy animals kept by poorer households and very small farmers or landless persons is likely to increase.

These dairy and farm animals like to take dips in village ponds and in particular the more heavily built buffaloes are happy with prolonged bath or just sitting and wallowing in water ponds. While the desire for this increases, opportunities may diminish with increasing heat and shrinking ponds.

Similarly other water sources may shrink leading to serious threats for fish and other water life as well. Recently death of several thousand fish was reported in Mandakini river in Chitrakut district. According to news reports, faulty operation of gates leading to sudden decline of water in a stretch of the river was responsible for this. This proved tragic, and should have been particularly avoided in heat wave conditions. Even otherwise, this river as well as several other rivers of this region have been shrinking due to faulty policies, including large-scale, indiscriminate sand mining.

Clearly there is need for much more awareness regarding taking care of various forms of life in heat wave conditions in times of global warming. In the case of roaming or chutta cattle, care should be taken to create some water storages , supported by some fodder storage as well wherever possible, in areas frequented by these cattle. In forests water and rain conservation work should be taken up so that wild life is not deprived of its most important need of water. Traditional practices of providing cool water points for birds and for feeding them should be stepped up in heat wave conditions.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is a journalist. Reena Yadav is a student)

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