September 1, 2006

Protected birds die for decorating drums in India

By Bappa Majumdar

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Thousands of protected birds are being killed in India's West Bengal state to meet demand from drummers who want to decorate their instruments with feathers, officials and activists said.

Egrets, pheasants and herons as well as endangered open bill storks are being trapped illegally or shot by arrows ahead of two important Hindu festivals, which will be celebrated in late September and early October.

"We have learned that drummers employed by organizers of upcoming festivals are using feathers of protected bird species for decoration," Ujjal Bhattacharya, West Bengal Chief Conservator of Forests, said on Friday.

"We have started a campaign to end this menace."

Experts estimate some 25,000 birds could be killed ahead of the Dussehra and Durga Puja festivals.

Authorities are meeting festival organizers to persuade them to stop hiring drummers who have decorated their drums with feathers and are also stepping up their vigil in wetlands and other areas where the birds congregate.

Dussehra is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Hindu god king, Rama, over Ravana, the demon king.

In Durga Puja, the Hindu goddess Durga is worshipped by millions of people over several days.

Hundreds of drummers take part in these festivals to invoke the gods and goddesses and many decorate their drums with scores of feathers in the hope they can charge a higher price from festival organizers.

Drummers trap birds in wetlands or hire poachers to shoot them with bows and arrows in remote areas, activists say.

"These birds are also sold in clandestine markets from a few hundred to a thousand rupees, before their feathers are sliced and colored to adorn drums," said Mukuta Mukherjee, coordinator of Friends of Wetlands and Wildlife, an environmental group.

Wildlife agencies say poaching was adding to the declining bird population in India, already facing a threat from a shrinking habitat.

BirdLife International, a worldwide conservation group, recently warned that some 300 Asian bird species face extinction, particularly in India, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, due to poor protection and habitat destruction.

In India, anyone convicted of killing a protected bird can be imprisoned for up to seven years or fined 5,000 rupees ($110) or both. But poachers are rarely convicted.

($1=46.50 rupees)