KARACHI – The Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, has ordered the Livestock Department to extend every sort of technical and professional support to the Wildlife Department to overcome the outbreak of Newcastle viral disease – commonly known as Rani Khet – among peacocks in Thar and its adjoining areas. The chief minister, while chairing a meeting held to review the wildlife, fisheries and agriculture departments’ efforts against the deadly disease at his secretariat, directed that prompt efforts be made to protect peacocks from natural as well as man-made dangers.Attended by Sindh Wildlife Minister Dr Daya Ram, Minister for Livestock Mir Abid Jatoi, Agriculture Minister Syed Ali Nawaz Shah Rizvi, the chief minister’s Principal Secretary Muhammad Siddique Memon, the livestock, agriculture and wildlife secretaries, the meeting also took notice of the encroachments in the province’s forestlands. Qaim Ali Shah directed the Agriculture Department to get vacated those lands whose lease had expired and their fresh leasing be carried out. He observed that forests helped to cope with natural disasters and climate change, and added that under the terms and conditions, it was mandatory for lease holders to plant trees on 25 per cent of their total land. He asked the forest and agriculture departments not only to protect the existing forests but also make efforts to launch new plantation projects. Observing that the sectors of livestock, agriculture and fisheries were the source of livelihood for nearly 70 per cent population of the province, the chief minister claimed that his government carried out various uplift schemes in these sectors in larger interest of the people. He also called for implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU), sealed with a Malaysian dairy farming company, for development of the livestock sector. Earlier, Wildlife Secretary Mushtaq Memon briefed the meeting that there were approximately 70,000 peacocks in Tharparkar, Mithi, Nagarparker, Diplo and Chachro areas. The first peacock death was reported on July 18, he said while adding that no further mortality was reported after August 8. “The prolonged drought, delay in monsoon and scorching heat became the main causes of the disease in birds,” he said, “In 2011, around 19 such mortalities occurred in Thar.” Memon, however, contended that only 44 peacocks died and 34 ailing birds were under treatment. He held that the situation was under control now, saying that at present, as many as 10 teams of 45 officials from the wildlife, poultry and forest departments were carrying out vaccination against the virus. Besides, heavy showers in the affected areas on 7th and 8th of this month also helped improve the situation.The meeting was also informed that the Wildlife Department had sensitised the field force and the Poultry Department to ascertain the cause of the peacock deaths. “Five teams, comprising wildlife officials and veterinarians, were formed to treat ailing birds, and bury those dead in a two-foot deep pit. “An awareness drive was also launched to help local people deal with the viral disease.” “Watering points are being treated with lime to eradicate fungal contamination. Infested specimens are isolated and special quarantine facility has been developed for treatment of affected birds, while healthy population is vaccinated to control the further spread of disease. So far, 45,000 doses of vaccine have been administered to peacocks and distributed among locals. Around 25,000 doses are available with the vet teams.” The wildlife secretary further said that the WWF-Pakistan and IUCN would also carry out a scientific survey to ascertain the actual reason behind the peacock deaths. Memon also referred to a WWF report, according to which “many of the population reported by the media as infected were actually not infected at all and mortality seems to be constricted to few villages only”. He said that a long term recovery and action plan had been developed with collaboration of the IUCN and WWF to mitigate any future outbreaks and scope of existing ADP schemes “conservation and propagation of rich biodiversity in district Tharparkar is being revised to arrange for peafowl recovery and breeding progress”.Poultry Vaccine Centre Director Dr Nazeer Hussain Kalhoro said that due to timely vaccination the disease had not turned into an epidemic.