Helping Delhi’s fauna keep the cool in summer

Every summer, 70-year-old Prakash Dikshit — a resident of Mayur Vihar-I — follows a strict morning routine: immediately after waking up, he fills up the earthen bowls kept on the window panes and the balcony of his third-floor apartment. “I make it a point that the bowls are never empty. I fill them with fresh water in the morning and change the water a couple of times during the day as well. We should all ensure that birds do not die of dehydration; the summer can be deadly for the animals and birds in the city,” says Dikshit.

As the mercury hovers above the 40 degree Celsius-mark, just like humans, they, too, reel under the adverse effects of the intense heat in Delhi — a city said to have the highest bird population in the world after Nairobi.

Unfortunately, Delhi is also the city which has been seeing its natural water bodies drying up. Earlier, Delhi had around 1,000 water bodies. But over the years, almost half of them have either become dumping grounds or have been encroached upon.

No wonder then that a large number of birds in the capital are victims of the summer heat. Across the city, it is not unusual to find birds lying unconscious on the ground, having suffered heat stroke, which can result in death, if appropriate measures are not taken on time.

“Raptors such as kites generally fly in higher altitudes and are more prone to heat strokes under the scorching sun. While descending in search of prey or water, they collapse on the ground due to dehydration, heat exhaustion and lack of shade,” Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, says, adding, “Creating green cover by planting more trees and keeping potted plants also provide reprieve to these birds.”

Experts say birds and animals are affected the most in areas where the green cover is scarce. While south Delhi and New Delhi have 33% and 46% forest cover, respectively, north-west Delhi and west Delhi have a meagre 4% and 5% forest cover, respectively.

Sunil Kumar Jain, honorary manager, Charity Birds Hospital in Chandni Chowk, says, “During summer, we get the maximum number of calls about birds falling ill — around 120 every day. These are mostly cases of dehydration and paralysis. Birds fall sick not just because they don’t get water to drink but also because of stale food. Residents keep the food in the open which often rot faster during summer. Birds eat such food and fall sick.”

While experts say government’s efforts are inadequate, Delhiites are doing their bit to provide relief to the city’s animals and birds.

On a scorching Friday, a parrot made its way around a earthen pot taking little sips of water from the bowls kept on the wide boundary wall protecting the Delhi Development Authority’s Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The wall is lined with different shapes of earthen pots and vessels to offer water to the birds nesting around the area.

“There is a temple along the park boundary and residents have made it their duty to feed the birds and ensure enough water is kept for them to quench their thirst. The pots are cleaned every day. We also send messages on our RWA WhatsApp group to ensure that the bowls never remain empty in summers,” says Sandeep Bali, president, Mehrauli RWA.

Elsewhere, in east Delhi, where the tree cover is not so dense, local RWAs make sure pots are kept in parks and balconies to allow birds to drink water. “For birds, we keep the water bowls at elevated structures to ensure other animals are not able to reach. This helps us ensure that birds are protected from predators. For stray animals such as cats and dogs, we keep larger pots at street corners,” says Shalini Gupta, a homemaker and resident of Krishna Nagar.

With more people buying earthen bowls to provide water to animals and birds, summer is a good time for artisans, as sales pick up.

Birders in Delhi, however, advise that people should be cautious as they seek to help the winged creatures from the torrid temperatures. “While we tell the residents not to feed the birds biscuits and chapatis because it is not their natural diet, we do encourage people to keep water in earthen pots. It is because the puddles and water sources dry up and birds and animals have to travel far to get water,” says Nikhil Devasar, founder of DelhiBird, a network of birders.

Surya Prakash, conservationist and scientific officer, School of Life Sciences, JNU, believes the ideal way to help birds in summer is by creating puddles with water lilies in green spaces. “The puddle could be under the shade of a tree with just enough sunlight peeking in at a park connected with a direct water supply line . It could be in a small area of 5×5 feet and about one foot deep. This small ecosystem will also help attract dragon flies and frogs, which too are looking for natural sources of water,” Prakash says.

He adds people must remember to manually clean the bowls kept for the birds. “In summers, fungal and algal infections spread fast. That is why the bowls need to be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a day and fresh water must be kept. The ones for birds must be on an elevated structure like the branch of a tree, away from those for animals,” he says.

The Delhi zoo animals are, however, luckier as elaborate arrangements are made for them during summers. While coolers and fans are installed in cages, sprinklers in open air enclosures provide water to the herd animals such as deer and antelopes. Shades are also provided so that animals can escape the direct sun rays. Even the diet of animals is changed. While carnivores are given a lesser amount of meat, seasonal fruits are given to the monkeys and apes. The bears are given kheer. “Every day, animals such as elephants and tigers are given a bath. Glucose and ORS water are also provided to the animals,” says RA Khan, curator of the National Zoological Park in Delhi.

In 2018, the Delhi environment and forest minister, Imran Hussain, had requested all government agencies — which maintain parks and gardens — such as the civic bodies and the DDA to ensure there is enough water for the birds and animals to drink. But many feel the government needs to do much more.

“The Delhi government has done little to provide any relief to birds, dogs, cats or cattle from the scorching heat — there are no rescue centres, no water troughs, no ambulances and no feeding stations. Apart from protecting the wild animals in the forests and sanctuaries, the government should also play some role to protect the animals and birds in the city,” says Gauri Maulekhi, an animal right activist and a trustee of People for Animals.

Joginder Dabas, assistant director (horticulture) at Nehru Park in central Delhi, however, says, “We have water sprinklers in the lawns and gardens of Nehru Park, which create small puddles of water where the birds come to drink and bathe throughout the day. Besides, the gardeners also water the plants, which also create such puddles.”

The city’s schools also do their bit for the birds and animals in the city. During summers, schools across the city sensitise students about the importance of keeping water in earthen pots in their houses and neighbourhoods for the birds and street animals.

Mount Abu School in Rohini, for example, has been following a “save our sparrow” project for the last eight years. The school also has a club dedicated to the cause, with both teachers and students contributing in their own ways.

Jyoti Arora, principal of the school, says, “We engage students in activities such as making birds’ nest, placing feeding bowls and pouring water for these birds in open bowls etc. We also take out rallies in the neighbourhood to generate awareness.”

First Published:
May 26, 2019 02:47 IST

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