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Sweltering heat routs Delhi’s animals, birds

Jun 20, 2024 05:50 AM IST

Birds and reptiles have been the most impacted during this period, and Delhi’s forest department is refilling around 450 of its watering holes and check dams across Delhi’s Ridge areas to provide ample water supply for the fauna there

New Delhi

Pigeons flock to the fountain at Central Park in Connaught Place to get respite from heat. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)
Pigeons flock to the fountain at Central Park in Connaught Place to get respite from heat. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)

Delhi’s extreme heat is not only impacting humans but is hitting its wildlife hard too, necessitating close to 50 bird and animal rescues every day, mainly due to severe dehydration, since early May, officials aware of the matter said. Birds and reptiles have been the most impacted during this period, and Delhi’s forest department is refilling around 450 of its watering holes and check dams across Delhi’s Ridge areas to provide ample water supply for the fauna there.

The state forest and wildlife department, which has its own rescue teams in each of the four forest divisions of Delhi, said over 130 mammals, reptiles and birds were rescued and brought to the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in the past month. Of the 130, nearly 50 were cases of birds dropping from the sky due to heat exhaustion and 40 cases of reptiles looking for a cool spot to hide in urban spaces.

“The animals are promptly rescued by our teams and taken to our rescue centre. To ensure there is adequate water, particularly in the Ridge areas, we already have watering holes and check dams, which are being filled two to three times a day, to ensure adequate water for the animals there,” a senior forest department official said.

Following requests for rescue on its helpline 1800118600, the bird or animal is taken to the rescue centre at south Delhi’s Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Dehydration in animals is the most common problem at this time of the year. Birds, particularly, are falling from the sky due to high heat and we are receiving kites, pigeons, peacocks and even owls. Among reptiles, snakes are fairly common and even 12 nilgai have been rescued during this period,” said Dr Sumit Nagar, a veterinarian at the Asola sanctuary.

The forest department carries out rescues in collaboration with NGO Wildlife SOS, which has its own rescue teams and two rescue facilities in NCR, one in Jangpura and another in Gurugram. The NGO said the calls it was receiving on its helpline number (9871963535) doubled since April. “We are averaging around 40 calls a day at present. This count was around 15 to 20 in April. Heat-related cases began to shoot up from May and there has been no respite in the past few weeks,” an official from Wildlife SOS said.

The NGO said bird rescue calls were the most common, with species rescued this month including the Asian koel, green pigeon, black kites, red-naped ibis, mynas, barn owls, peacocks, shikra and parakeets. “Around 20 snakes have been rescue in June. These include black-headed royal snakes, Indian wolf snake, common krait, Indian rat snake and the common sand boa,” the official said.

Geeta Seshamani, co-founder and secretary of Wildlife SOS, said in rural areas, evaporation from soil and plants cools the air, but this effect is lost in cities due to lack of green spaces and high concretisation, leading to the urban heat island effect. “High concretisation makes it nearly impossible for animals to cool down, resulting in more dehydrated and stressed animals. Many of these succumb to extreme temperatures too,” she said.

Over the past few days, social media has also been abuzz with posts of bats dropping “dead” across the city due to the heat.

Experts said this dry heat impacts the Indian flying fox bat (Pteropus giganteus) in particular, as they like to roost high. “In this heat, it is possible they fall due to exhaustion. We have been hearing of bat deaths in parts of Delhi over the last few days. In Rajasthan, over 1,000 bat deaths have similarly been reported in the last month or so,” said Sumit Dookia, assistant professor at Delhi’s Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU) and part of Delhi’s Biodiversity Council.

Dookia said Hauz Khas’ Deer Park and Janpath were two major roosting sites of this species.

The Delhi Development Authority, which maintains Deer Park, said no deaths were reported, but acknowledged that bats were falling off trees. “We heard cases of some bats dropping, but a couple had only fainted. The bats were taken to a veterinarian and released after they revived. These bats hang from trees during the day and fainted due to high heat, as per what the doctor informed us,” a DDA official said.

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