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Saving India's Endangered Birds - a new partnership for 2021

Looking ahead to projects we hope to take forward as restrictions are lifted, we are very excited by the prospect of a new partnership with RAKSHA Jaipur in India. WVI has been providing training, advice and hands-on clinical help to those working to save birds injured during the annual kite-flying festival, which marks the coming of spring, since 2012. Earlier this year, we sent vet nurse Matt Rendle to meet those working for RAKSHA and find out more about how WVI could help the organisation build its capacity to treat, rehabilitate and release injured birds.

Matt was able to meet with both the founder of RAKSHA, Rohit Gangwal, and avian veterinary surgeon Dr. Ushma Patel. An experienced ornithologist, Rohit has over 25 years of experience in the rescue and rehabilitation of many bird species. Dr. Patel has been helping RAKSHA during recent kite festivals and had already noted that while rehabilitation was being well-managed, the provision of veterinary care was poor, often being carried out by well-meaning members of the public with no veterinary training. Working in temporary trauma centres, with little equipment and under the gaze of an overwhelming number of interested onlookers has added to the challenge.

 On Dr Patel’s advice, RAKSHA has recently rented fixed premises and is in the process of creating an operating theatre. Dr Patel has also been able to put some basic veterinary protocols in place and source some essential medical supplies.

 At the time of Matt’s visit, the new centre had been open less than a month but is making good progress. He was impressed with what he saw:

 “The new centre is well staffed with volunteers who have a clear understanding of what they need to do. The employees are very hard working and the nutritional care of the birds at RAKSHA is the best I have seen inIndia. Although it’s small, the new operating theatre is well positioned and once they can get surgical lighting and some appropriate anaesthetic equipment it will be fit for purpose.”

While Matt was there he was able to help with a number of clinical procedures and even found himself teaching a group of 17 very enthusiastic final year veterinary students. His discussion with the students covered many avian subjects, including wound care, pain relief, anaesthesia and physiotherapy.

Even Dr. Patel, herself an experienced avian surgeon, felt she gained from watching Matt:

“He is the best! I have learned amazing things from him. He is very meticulous in his work and a wonderful teacher. We are really grateful for his help.”

We are hoping that our collaboration with RAKSHA can start off with a two day training conference next January, to be held at a local veterinary university, just ahead of the annual kite-flying festival. This would be run in collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare(IFAW) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), both of which currently supportRAKSHA.

The aim of the conference would be to have around 100 attendees, half of whom would be vets and half rescuers and rehabilitators. Lectures would cover a wide range of topics, including triage and first aid, fracture management, post operative care and nutrition, and pre-release assessments.

After the conference, a number of vets would stay on to work with RAKSHA and the WVI team during the kite festival itself.

The annual celebrations, which happen each January, mark Uttarayan – the end of winter and coming of spring – with displays of kite-flying. Thousands take part and among the activities are numerous kite-fighting events, where the objective is to bring down your opponent’s kite. Often, special string coated with ground glass is used and this can be particularly dangerous to birds if not disposed of properly. Typically thousands are killed or injured each year. Casualties include the Critically Endangered white-backed vulture, the Endangered Egyptian vulture and the Vulnerable sarus crane.

Education around the festival is helping to reduce the problem, with people being encouraged to avoid flying kites at dawn or dusk for example, and dispose of kite string carefully. Nevertheless, organisations likeRAKSHA can expect to treat 1000 birds a week during the festival.

By partnering with RAKSHA we hope to play a vital role in building avian veterinary expertise in India and help save some of the country’s most endangered birds.