Deaths in Morena

Published : Jul 22, 2000 00:00 IST


MYSTERY surrounds the death of large number of peacocks in the villages of Maharajpura and Sitapur in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh between June 24 and July 8. While unofficial estimates put the toll at 80, the district administration says that 13 pe acocks died in Maharajpura during the fortnight and 31 died in Sitapur on July 7 and 8. Although peacocks had been dying since June 24, the information reached the Forest Department and the district administration only on July 8, when the non-governmenta l organisation (NGO) Volunteers of People for Animals informed the people of the village about the incident.

According to District Collector Pramod Agarwal, the post-mortem of the peacocks indicated that they had died because of haemorrhage in the stomach caused by mercury-based chemicals. The report submitted by the Divisional Forest Officer stated that the bi rds began to die after the bajra crop had been sown and sprayed with pesticide.

Morena district takes its name from the Hindi word for peacock, Mayur (the place was earlier called Mayur 1). Home to thousands of peacocks, the district is situated in the forest-rich Chambal division, bordering Rajasthan. Over the years, however, due t o encroachment of forest land, the natural habitat of precious birds such as the peacock, started dwindling. According to Agarwal, Maharajapura may have between 2,000 and 3,000 peacocks.

A combination of factors could have caused the deaths. Although the team led by Dr. U.C. Garg, an expert at the veterinary college at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, has found that a toxic element caused the deaths of the birds, the source and nature of the pestic ide is yet to be established. Garg was requested by the State Agricultural Department to conduct a study in the two villages. In a study he conducted into the death of more than 10 peacocks in similar circumstances in Jhabua in 1993, Garg had concluded t hat excessive use of pesticides on the crops caused the deaths.

In Morena, Garg conducted a post-mortem on two peacocks and found traces of a poison, besides bajra and wheat in their stomach. Although an analysis of the post-mortem report is necessary to reach any conclusion, it is suspected that farmers might have u sed larger doses of pesticides than what is considered safe in order to prevent the bajra crop from being afflicted by certain diseases. According to the Pesticides Association of India (PAI), there are four registered pesticides (produced now) that coul d be applied to the bajra crop after it is grown for three or four weeks. These are Atrazine (safe dose per hectare: 0.5 kg to 1 kg), Carbofuran (safe dose per hectare: 1.5 kg), Dimethoate (180 to 200 gm), and Phorate (3 kg).

It is not clear which of these pesticides were used by the farmers. According to a PAI spokesperson, the Director of Plant Protection and extension workers hired by pesticide companies educate farmers on the right use of pesticides. If the safe dose is e xceeded it may not affect animals, he said.

Lack of rain is cited as a reason for the poisonous chemicals on the crop not getting diluted before the peacocks arrived. Once the rains began, peacocks stopped dying in these villages, said Pramod Agarwal. However, this explanation is not considered co nvincing, as the crops require water to grow for three to four weeks, after which the chemicals are sprayed. Sixteen samples of the bajra crop from the area have been sent for analysis to a university in Jabalpur. All these samples are reportedly "unbran ded", official sources say. Some samples have been sent for analysis to the Union Agriculture Ministry's laboratory in Faridabad.

It also appears that several birds died because there are no modern facilities for timely treatment in Morena. Garg treated a few sick birds on his arrival in the two villages and found that they responded well to the treatment. He said that had the bajr a seeds been covered with soil immediately after sowing (as is the usual practice in the area), the death could have been prevented. He believes that environmental factors such as water and seed scarcity, apart from the use of pesticides in higher-than-p rescribed doses, may have led to the deaths. He suggests regular monitoring of birds in the area, particularly before the onset of the monsoon.

Although some experts suspect smuggling of peacock feathers as a possible reason for the deaths, Pramod Agarwal ruled it out. He claimed that the bodies of all peacocks that died in Sitapur were recovered by the administration. If there was any foul play vested interests would have attempted to remove these bodies, he said. No arrests have been made following the incident.

Even as the results of the laboratory tests were awaited, at least six peacocks died reportedly after eating soyabean crops treated with pesticides in Jhabua district on July 13. It is high time the administration woke up and took remedial action.

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