Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'
The inadvertent killing of birds in nets meant to protect grapevines should act as a wake-up call to all birders. Urgent monitoring of similar sites is needed to prevent more such senseless deaths.
While on a birding trip to the Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve on February 27th, 2021, my friend, Chris Bowden, and I, witnessed a serious problem involving the killing of hundreds of birds on a nearby private property. A vineyard, owned by Krushnamruga Wineyard and Blackbuck Vineyards Pvt Ltd., was covered over with a fine synthetic net, presumably to protect the ripening grapes from bird depredation. Unfortunately, gaps at the sides of the net due to poor installation had allowed many birds to enter the netted area. Once inside, the birds presumably became disoriented and, in their panic to get out, became hopelessly entangled in the netting. All images © Chris Bowden. See the details on the eBird checklist.
From the public road running alongside the vineyard, we counted a minimum of 115 dead birds belonging to ten species, namely Common Myna, Jungle Myna, Brahminy Myna, Red-vented Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Shikra, Cattle Egret and Rosy Starling (more images and details can be seen on the eBird checklist.) Rosy Starling is a migrant to central Asia and Europe and passes through Karnataka in flocks of many thousands during the next month or so. There is a real risk of mass mortality if a flock were to get trapped.
Besides the dead birds, there were many that were still alive inside the netted enclosure, struggling and unable to free themselves. Along with a group of photographers who had independently noticed the problem, we rescued one Rose-ringed Parakeet but were told to leave by the vineyard’s security guard.
We attempted to contact the Chairman of Blackbuck Wines by email, although we have as yet received no response. We also informed the Forest Department. On the 28th, the DFO, Tumkur, visited the vineyard with his RFO. They removed the nets and were apparently able to speak with the owner.
It is anyone’s guess how many vineyards in Karnataka and elsewhere in the country have similar nets covering them and how many birds might be dying. Or indeed, whether this problem is occurring with other crops. Birdwatchers and conservationists living in regions with vineyards or other net-covered farms should conduct surveys, now and periodically, and report any problem to their local Forest Department office and alert Conservation India.
The vineyard in this report is in Maidanahalli, a small village in Madhugiri Taluk in Tumkur District, Karnataka.
CI COMMENT: Virtually all wild birds are protected under various Schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. According to Praveen Bhargav, author of 'Wildlife Law for Rangers', and Trustee, Wildlife First, the Wildlife (Protection) Act does not make a distinction between the intentional killing of protected species and unintended killings like in this instance. He writes, "The term hunting is defined in Section 2(16) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It includes the killing, capturing, trapping of any wild animal, and every attempt to do so. Section 9 prohibits hunting of all wild animals and birds specified in Schedule I to IV. The prohibition applies everywhere, including on private land. All wild animals are Government Property and if found dead, must be reported to authorities within 48 hours. The penalty prescribed under Section 51 for such offences outside a Sanctuary is up to three years imprisonment or fine or both. Such killing may also amount to violations under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.