Kite string injuries of birds have been identified as a manmade disaster causing major welfare and conservation issues. Traditional kite flying throughout the Indian subcontinent, especially in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is celebrated every year.1 Kite-flying takes place in the first 2 weeks of the New Year, both in crowded cities and the countryside. Birds may be injured by the flying kites or the vast quantity of discarded string that often festoons trees. Ahmedabad, a “mega-city” in Gujarat, sits on a major bird migratory route and still has a small population of the highly endangered Gyps vultures. Local and international non-government organizations (NGOs) have now committed themselves to providing disaster response. This includes the collection of injured birds, transportation to veterinary treatment facilities, triaging of patients, providing medical and surgical treatment, hospitalization and rehabilitation or euthanasia.
Over a period of 3 years, a team headed by a veterinarian collected injured birds, such as vultures from the city.2 Basic first aid measures, including hemostasis and intravenous fluids, were given at point of collection. At the hospital birds were triaged according to the type of injury, conservation status and rehabilitation prospects. The majority of the injuries pertain to the wings, with laceration injuries to the propatagium, muscles and tendons of brachium and antebrachium being the most frequently recorded. Long-legged species (e.g., cranes) most frequently present with leg injuries sustained when they are brought down in flight. Fractures of the humerus and radius, dislocations and severe joint capsule damage of the elbow joint also present. Surgical repair of lacerated wing soft tissues was performed under inhalation general anesthesia using isoflurane. Markedly higher survival rates and fewer disabilities were observed in the years 2006 to 2008 when compared with previous years. Wing amputation of some endangered species was performed after critical evaluation of future welfare in captivity. Disabled endangered birds were distributed among breeding programs and zoological gardens. Birds deemed fit were released back into the wild.
Factors that have contributed to the success of the rescue efforts include the capability of a local, primarily stray dog neutering, NGO to provide facilities and veterinary staff familiar with a high surgical throughput, a highly motivated volunteer network and logistical support. This was augmented through one member of staff having previously attended a training course on avian medicine and surgery (with this knowledge having been cascaded down), high-quality equipment (including isoflurane vaporisers) being available and a skills-base that included ornithologists and aviculturalists. Participation of wider-community, including religion-based animal welfare organizations and the government sector, and changes in public perception in later years have influenced the disaster response, especially regarding welfare issues such as euthanasia. The kite festival, “Uttayan,” has a religious base. Thus, reduction of the effects of the festival in the future must be based on mitigation (e.g., through the use of different kite string) and education (e.g., requesting that kites not be flown in areas of significant wildlife importance), rather than through an expectation that it can be halted or banned.
1. Gunwantrao A, Wankhede AG, Sariya DR. 2008. “Manja”—A dangerous thread. Ashesh Gunwantrao. 2007. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. 15:189–192.
2. Routh, A. 2006. Conservation of the Gyps vultures in India—veterinary support for an in-situ project. Proceedings of the Meeting of the American Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians. Tampa, Florida. USA.