Something is killing migratory birds in Rajasthan. According to media reports, around 17,000 of them have died so far around Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan. With climate change playing havoc with the world, the number of such birds flying to India has been on the decline, and it’s disconcerting that Indian wildlife authorities still haven’t been able to work out what exactly is going on in Rajasthan. Although preliminary forensic reports attributed the deaths to avian botulism, a neuromuscular illness that’s a major cause of bird mortality, doubt has been cast on that diagnosis since. A whole battery of tests will have to be done.
An alternate theory points to an infection turning fatal under the stress of competition for scarce resources made scarcer by climate change. Another possible culprit could be the lake’s excessively salty water, which may have altered its alkalinity levels. This, too, implicates environmental degradation.
Avian deaths are thus an advance warning of the harm our development binge is inflicting on the natural habitats of other species. Rising temperatures, changing vegetation and extreme weather conditions have already hit birds hard. Migratory birds of the northern hemisphere that are conditioned to fly south every winter appear to be bearing the brunt of it. As proud hosts, we should do our utmost to assure these visitors their safety. The only way to do that is to ensure that all bird zones—around water bodies, typically—remain hospitable. This exercise should include cracking the Sambhar case as quickly as possible.