KARACHI - The Standing Committee of Senate on Climate Change has asked the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department to take all-out measures to tackle Newcastle Disease (ND), which has killed a number of peacocks in Tharparkar and other districts of Sindhe.

The standing committee in its meeting, which was attended by the senior officials of Wildlife and Forest departments as well as federal ministries, also urged the Sindh Wildlife Department to utilise all means available with it to raise awareness among locals through all possible means about the viral disease. The senate body, however, assured its support in every possible form in this regard.

The meeting was held to discuss the deaths of peacocks in the Tharparkar district and reviewed remedial steps taken so far by the provincial departments and the Ministry of Climate Change to control the disease. Additional Secretary of the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani, Sindh Wildlife Conservator Saeed Akhtar Baloch, WWF-Pakistan’s Regional Director (Sindh) Rab Nawaz briefed the meeting of the Senate Committee on Climate Change about the emergence of the ND and steps being taken by the department to vaccinate the peacocks in Thar and other parts of Sindh, officials told TheNation.

The Climate Change Committee of Senate, met the other day with its chairperson Dr Saeeda Iqbal in the chair. Ministry of Climate Change Secretary Mehmood Alam, Inspector General Forests Syed Mahmood Nasir, Joint Secretary Muhammad Ashraf, representative of the Punjab Forests and Wildlife Department Muhammad Naeem Bhatti, Deputy Inspector General Forests-I Dr Shahzad Jehangir and Deputy Inspector General Forests-II Abdul Munaf Qaimkhani attended the meeting. The wildlife and environment experts told the meeting that protracted drought and delayed monsoon is major cause of the outbreak of the ND, commonly known as Ranikhet.

Inspector general of forests Syed Mahmood Nasir told the meeting that although outbreak of the disease in peacocks in Tharparkar area was reported, the mortality was quite low. He said the media has reported that over 250 peacocks have died from the ND, but the officials at the Sindh forests and wildlife department and WWF-P contradict the mortality figures being reported by the media.

Inspector General Forests at the Ministry of Climate Change Syed Mahmood Nasir said that besides Newcastle viral disease, there are some other causes too that have led to deaths of the peacocks, such as bacterial, protozoan diseases, international and external parasites as well as nutritional deficiency. “When there is no rain or inadequate rains during monsoon season, then it results in scarcity of food and water. This situation leads to deaths of not only peacocks but also other wildlife too,” he added.

Additional Secretary of the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department, Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani claimed that between 40 to 60 peacocks died due to Newcastle viral disease in Sindh.

Rab Nawaz, regional director of the WWF-P from Sindh told the meeting that they have also conducted rapid assessment in the first week of this month, saying that through the survey number of dead peacocks is 69 while 19 are infected and 29 sick. He apprised the meeting that a team of his department is carrying out various activities to save the peacock population through enhanced veterinary services, vaccination of affected wildlife birds and is raising awareness through distribution of pamphlets in local languages and open sittings.

Sindh wildlife conservator Saeed Akhtar Baloch in his presentation said that first unnatural death of the peacocks was reported on July 18 this year and the Sindh Forests and Wildlife departments took it as ‘red signal’ keeping in view the mortalities recorded in 2010 and 2011. Upto July 25, the mortality reached nine.

Later, the dead and infected specimens were brought to laboratory and chemical examination to ascertain the cause, where it was diagnosed and confirmed as viral infection caused by the ND, he told the meeting. Mr. Baloch further said that the provincial forests and wildlife department sensitized the field officers and poultry department, who initiated relief/treatment operations in areas from where rate of mortality among peacocks was higher.

He said that a meeting of the provincial wildlife, livestock and poultry experts was convened on July 25, in which the causes of disease, preventive and curative measures were identified.

Saeed Akhtar Baloch apprised the meeting that a number of interventions were launched by the provincial wildlife department on emergency basis to tackle the viral disease, which include: the distributing of handouts containing precautionary and traditional curing measures, the locals were educated about the diseases and ways how to tackle it.

He said that the department has also taken initiatives treat water ponds with lime to eradicate fungal / bacterial contaminants and infested or diseased specimens are being isolated. WWF-P’s Rab Nawaz said that vaccinating the affected birds would not be helpful.

 However, such birds should be isolated and quarantined so that other birds are not hit by the viral diseases.

Earlier, chairing the meeting, Senator Dr Saeeda Iqbal said although media played its due role in highlighting the issue of ND in peacocks in Sindh, it should avoid creating unnecessary hype.

Representative of the Punjab Forests and Wildlife Department told the meeting that humans are in no way vulnerable to the ND. Dr Saeeda Iqbal recommended holding of training and capacity building programmes for the media so that such serious wildlife issues are reported accurately and carefully. Building capacity of the officials at the provincial wildlife and poultry departments would be of great help in nipping such preventable diseases from the bud, she said.