Thursday, November 23, 2017

My journey into ornithological bibliography

I was honoured to give a talk at the Goethe Zentrum in Hyderabad, on 21 November 2017, to members of the Birdwatchers' Society, and the general public, on my journey into ornithological bibliography.

My dear friend, and fellow-birder, Asif Husain Arastu, filmed the hour-long talk. Here is a YouTube link:

My journey into ornithological bibliography

Thursday, October 12, 2017

In Conversation With India’s Birdman Aasheesh Pittie



Rohini Kejriwal spoke to the ornithologist about the state of conservation in India, challenges posed by urbanisation, and the lessons he has learnt from the flying beauties

“Birds are the eyes of Heaven,” – Suzy Kasse

Hyderabad-based Aasheesh Pittie ornithologist, bibliophile, and bibliographer, most certainly agrees with Kasse’s words. With a strong interest in the history of South Asian ornithology, Pittie has compiled a database of over 31,000 ornithological publications for the South Asian region. A writer on the subject, he has published several articles and papers on Indian birds and edits the bi-monthly journal Indian BIRDS. He recently completed his monumental work on the historic Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, thus adding to his work on the archival Stray Feathers, the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society and Ibis, and the more recent Newsletter for Birdwatchers, Indian BIRDS, now in its 13th year of publication, and Forktail. We spoke to Pittie about his fascination with birds, the state of conservation in India, challenges posed by urbanisation, and the lessons he has learnt from the flying beauties. Read the excerpt below.

Can you recall the moment that you decided to be an ornithologist?
Long ago, when I was gifted a copy of Salim Ali’s Book of Indian birds, I took it and a clunky pair of binoculars to a house that overlooked some rocks and sat down to wait for birds. The monsoon was setting in and it threatened to rain. A Red-wattled Lapwing came onto a rock and shaking with excitement, I raised the binoculars and noted its details. Then came a green bee-eater upon an overhead wire with its long central tail feathers. It began to drizzle but I could not get up. The book helped me identify and name the two species, but their absolutely amazing physical presence was overwhelming. Something shifted within me that day. I have never regretted becoming a birder.

Take us through your journey as a birder.
Over the years I have developed a special fondness for birds, but I am enthralled by all of natural life. Practicality is a major reason for choosing birds. They are everywhere and in abundance, unlike most other life forms. Then they are easily visible and audible. I suppose the charm and character that birds exude are among their abiding qualities that I find so endearing. To me, birds are primarily an abundant, vibrant, non-human life form that I can get close to, and celebrate our co-existence because of my sentient conscience. I understand that it’s a one-way ‘relationship’, if I may call it that, as there is no communication between birds and man. Yet I revel in their ability of flight, their beauty, charm, song, dance, character, power, delicacy, tolerance, stamina, etc. characteristics I aspire to, as does every human being. Birds do not know these terms; they are our way of understanding them, limited by our lexicon. I paint on them emotions in trying to understand my own.
Due to the nature of my work, I have not been able to travel much for birding. So I began to try and make it easier for birders, both amateur and professional, to search the vast literature of the field easily, and find out what has been published, say, about the Indian Roller in Maharashtra. Towards this, I have spent hundreds of man-hours in libraries, indexing 300 years of ornithological literature so that with the help of keywords, people can ferret out papers that might contain information they are searching. I have also been fortunate to edit various newsletters, and journals along this journey into ornithology.

What is the current state of birding and conservation in India?
Birding, as a pastime, is booming, fuelled by the new-found fad for bird-photography. Birding as a tool for conservation is picking up speed through various citizen-science projects and individual or collective (organised/organisation-based) activism. There is a pretty large community of birders in India. The exciting part is that it is growing rapidly every day. Most major cities have groups that go out birding at least on weekends. Social media has played a pivotal role in the huge popularisation of birding. There are Facebook groups that boast of over one-lakh members – Indian Birds. The versatility of the smartphone in perpetuating this phenomenon is used in so many different ways. Photos of birds, birding groups, habitats, etc., are uploaded easily; opinions upon correct identification of species are exchanged and applied; birding trips are organised, and threats to habitats such as wetlands or urban trees, highlighted. Someone invariably takes up the cause to educate the government, muster local or countywide support, and try and save such areas. The social media also informs people abouting poaching, the unethical behaviour of over enthusiastic photographers and birders, and acts as an SOS sounding-board where people ask about methods of handling lost fledgelings, storm-blown sea birds, or injured birds.
The power of citizen-science in collecting raw data is immense though it is in its nascent stage across most of India. An early effort to use amateur birders to collect data was the Asian Waterbird Census, which started in 1987 and still occurs in Dec-Jan every year. Subsequently, several participatory programmes have sprung up for the citizen-scientists so much so there is now a calendar of events. The recent upsurge in documenting, and analysing birding data is due to the fantastic online database portal called eBird, where birders can upload their field lists, notes, and photographs to be checked by experts and accepted. Various types of analyses are possible from the data.
So, on the amateur birder level, the birding scene in India is pretty rosy. Professional ornithology still has a long way to go, not so much for the lack of personnel as institutional support. Conservation in India is largely controlled by the State. Citizens have no control over the State’s whimsical fragmentation of wilderness areas. Many times, rudimentary or even erroneous environmental impact assessments are prepared by incompetent agencies and based on them, developmental projects are fast tracked for implementation. This is a high-handed, myopic, and discouraging trend that undermines the vital role of wilderness areas in the way our planet functions.
The increased awareness about the environment has resulted in a greater vigilance amongst the birders and wildlifers. Every detrimental project of the State is quickly flagged and we see a lot of participation in various types of protests. So birders are gradually getting to the tipping point where their collective voice would be heard by the administrations.

But beyond the hobby or activism, is there a lot of on-going research in ornithology?
Most ornithological research in India is species-specific, which is fine as it builds our knowledge base about birds. But it cannot be forgotten that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that there is a vast and extant literature. What is required is a deeper research that sees the role of species in the larger perspective of their environment so that a more holistic view of land and the wilderness is formed. Currently, there is a concentration of studying threatened species. I only wish that today’s common species are also studied. With the rate of habitat destruction and other pressures, many may end up threatened in a decade or two.
But there are several ornithologists in the country today doing great work. The work of V. V. Robin and his team comes to mind. Their deep study of the ‘Sky Islands’ of the Western Ghats is breaking new ground in the fields of landscape ecology, on species, biodiversity, and the effects of habitat fragmentation. Another worthy effort in north-eastern India is by Aparajita Datta’s team which works with local communities on the conservation of hornbills.
Team of birders are also venturing into coastal waters of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala in search of pelagic birds.

Can you take us through the issues faced by birds, especially in Southern India?
I have a feeling, though I may be wrong, that the birds of the five southern Indian states are better studied than those of the rest of the country. Through the phenomenon of eBird, the distribution data pouring in is amazing, and at least Kerala has taken up the task of compiling a bird atlas. Birders from the city of Mysore have created an atlas of bird distribution for two consecutive years. This contagion will only spread.
Habitat fragmentation, land, air, and water pollution, and man-made situations like wind farms are some of the problems birds face. Some of these will return to haunt us, if not affecting us already, for birds are a mere strand in the web of ecology that binds all life on earth. Ultimately, these problems will affect the way we live for they will result in water shortages, toxic poisoning, catastrophic climate change phenomena, etc.

So in what direction do we look for solutions?
A sure-fire way to ensure a more secure future for our environment, the birds and other wildlife, and ourselves as a consequence is universal education. It empowers people with knowledge and the ability to take right decisions.
There is a movement towards organic agriculture, and if its footprint were to increase, the land near critical wild habitat would become safer to their denizens. Government should stop clearing wilderness areas and furthering mono-culture in the name of reafforestation. What they deem non-productive land has remained so over millennia and plays a role in stabilising local landscapes (geography and hydrology).
We also need to preserve pristine water bodies. Commercialising all of them ultimately pollutes them and reduces their biodiversity.
Further, urban spaces should be de-congested into smaller satellite towns, ultimately reducing the need for mega-hydro projects for irrigation, power, and potable water – making way for smaller, less disruptive projects.

Stemming from this, you seem to feel quite strongly about birds and urban spaces.
Bird life in urban India is pretty diverse. In the pockets of congenial habitats that survive in the concrete jungles that our cities have become, wildlife clings on tenaciously, adapting to the rapidly changing habitats. Their presence or absence and abundance or rarity of species in urban areas is a reflection of their adaptability to changing environments and microhabitats. The reason one commensal of man (the house sparrow) struggles to cope while another (the feral pigeon) thrives is a direct reflection of this adaptability.
Feral pigeon populations have exploded in urban areas because conditions are conducive for them. They have virtually no predators, ample nesting spaces, and an abundance of food. They have adapted to using high-rise buildings for nesting and as perches. Their predators in the wilderness, generally falcons, are uncommon in urban Indian skies; feral, or pet cats might comprise their sole nemesis. But their propensity to breed year-round and the senseless largess of people who feed them ensure their successful colonisation of our urban spaces. We tolerate the mess they create, assume divine blessing in the feeding of them, and couldn’t care less that they spread disease. If municipalities made feeding pigeons a punishable offence, as many Western towns’ municipalities have, the menace of these flying rats will be curtailed.
World over, more people live in urban spaces than they do in the countryside. Urban spaces, if planned diligently, can become havens for wildlife. Diversity will be limited, as ecological riches are restricted, but there will be surprises due to the great variety of habitats. There is a concept gaining traction in the West, wherein a city is considered a fragmented protected area. Planners connect urban parks to each other via corridors of avenue trees and embrace private gardens into this grid. If such a concept were to be adopted, and municipalities envision habitats created of local or endemic rather than exotic flora, we could see an urban environment emerging that would benefit the people living in it. A life devoid of natural surroundings, which break the anarchy of man-made lines, withers our souls. And if we are restricted to artificial sound, our capacity to enjoy natural bird song and the subconscious euphoria it creates will diminish and impoverish us.

We’re sure you’ve had some fascinating adventures, be it on your solo birding trips or bird counts. Please share some stories.
I am not a particularly adventurous type, and so cannot boast of spectacular escapades in the wilderness. But in the restricted birding I have done, I have found moments of great beauty and grace that are sufficient to soothe a soul. On an outing with my birding group one winter morning, we were watching some ducks on a small wetland, when an Osprey appeared out of nowhere and dove for fish in front of an astonished birding audience, disappearing below the water and then, in a trice, emerging and lifting off with a large squirming fish in its talons. Mid-flight, it shook its body to rid its feathers of water in an halo of spray and flew away with the morning’s catch. It was a spectacular moment.
Another time, another place, again a water body. A few of us sat on a bund, watching ducks flying in to land on the water. As some came in, a few turned turtle in flight and then uprighted before landing. What an unbelievable sight that was! No one knows why they do it. It was so quiet, we could hear the wind in their wings – a sound of tearing fabric – as they descended at high speed.
In birding, the question to ask when looking at the bird is whether one is seeing it. To truly do so, one has to be sensitive, discerning, patient, quiet, and still. Birds will allow you into their world and the joys of watching birds are great, wherever you are. I have gasped at the clever House Crow that dropped crisped papad into waters so it did not splinter when eaten; at the song and dance of a male lora trying to impress a visiting female; at the crazy monotone of the Coppersmith Barbet; at the frenzy of male Baya Weavers when a female visits to inspect the housing facilities before accepting her mate; at the ability of young Pheasant-tailed Jacanas to sink into water when an adult cries ‘ware hawk’—in alarm; in the comical but perfect ruse of plovers to lure away predators from their young by the broken-wing (injured bird) display; by the awesome spectacle of tens of thousand of flamingos staining a wetland like an algal bloom; by the flocking of wagtails and pipits as they came to roost in a clump of reeds. All these encounters were close to urban agglomerations. People often ask ‘Where do you go to watch birds? Surely none but a few exist in cities?” But they are ignorant. Cities have a thriving birdlife though it may be limited. And I am not among those who wander the world with a shopping list of birds to be seen. Once ticked, they’re done with it, and move on to the next one. I am happy in my patch and with the birds found on it.

From your understanding, does birding provide a legit means of income?
There are several avenues for creating a livelihood for persons who do not have an academic degree in ornithology but are avid birders. What should be kept in mind by such people is that their interest in birds should be expanded to include the bird’s environment to get a more holistic picture of what is involved.
A person with a degree in ornithology could pursue an academic career in teaching, curating museum collections, join the government through the forest service, or other positions that require qualified people. Even large corporates with extensive campuses may need environmental experts. They may join environmental assessment agencies or international or national conservation organisations that run projects across the world. They could join or form their own tour companies to plan, execute, and lead niche itineraries for the adventure-hungry tourist.
Amateurs would perhaps have to work harder. But they could also professionalise their passion in writing books, in taking up photography, or even leading specialised tours on their own. The idea is to capitalise on your speciality and tap the niche market that searches for such a specialist. It all depends on how enterprising one is.

Being the bibliophile that you are, would you say there are high quality books on birds being published in India?
Indian publishers are hitching their wagons to the birding books phenomenon but invariably piggy backing on international publishers who have already put out books in the world market. The Bombay Natural History Society is perhaps the only organisation that in collaboration with Oxford University Press produces high quality natural history work. Other Indian publishers like Permanent Black, Orient Blackswan, and Aleph have begun their own imprints that cater to works on wildlife. But it is a mark of the state of affairs when the two most popular birding field guides have non-Indian authors. Except for Salim Ali’s large body of bird books and his incomparable beginner’s guide Book of Indian Birds, very few original standalone volumes have been published from a country with our 1200 species of birds, which have made a resounding splash. Notable exceptions in recent years have been Rishad Naoroji’s Birds of prey of the Indian Subcontinent, and Birds of Kerala by Sashikumar Praveen, Palot & Nameer.
Nature writing as a genre has not caught on in India though there are several anthologies in the market containing articles from various sources. But there is the glimmer of a silver lining showing since a couple of years, even though the works I allude to deal with larger environmental issues.

What was your process of getting into your first book Birds In Books, a bibliography of books on South Asian Ornithology?
The book covers a small portion of the vast library of published literature from this part of the world since 1750 – the time of scientific ornithology, comprising over 30,000 papers. I realised early on that there was no easy way to search through historical publications for pertinent literature on any one species or place. So I compiled a database that enables users do this at www.southasiaornith.in. Keeping it up to date is a full time job.

What would be your general advice to anyone interested in pursuing birding?
All pursuits have their own unique codes of ethical conduct. So does birding, e.g, the bird and its safety always comes first No matter how important it is to see it or photograph it, if in doing so, its very survival is threatened, one must back off. Birders must realise they are dealing with life forms that cannot comprehend them and vice versa; so taking situations for granted as if it were a human situation may not work with birds.
Over time, as one’s interest in birds grows, it is natural that one reads deeply about them and the environment they live in; one will finally realise it is a common environment we share. Through birds, we learn about our habitat and our role in shaping (or destroying) it. I would advise people to enjoy birds. Follow rules and the birders code of ethics. To advance ornithology, become a citizen-scientist and post your lists on eBird. Stay alert about environmental issues and participate in protecting wilderness areas. Read widely and spread the art and joy of birding.

Last one. Which is your dream bird you’ve been in the pursuit of?
I would love to answer “ the one I see next” for that is how much I like watching them. But over time, some birds become embedded in one’s imagination for various reasons. The endemic Bugun Liocichla of Arunachal Pradesh is one such. It is an entirely new species that was discovered as recently as 2006 by Raman Athreya and described to the world though Indian BIRDS, a journal I edit. I would also like to witness the spectacle of Amur Falcons flocking before their migration to Africa.
But frankly, I am happy visiting the same places again and again, and watching the same species repeatedly for if one gazes long enough, it is never the same place nor species. Just like one does not step into the same river twice, you always return to a different situation of habitat and life cycle of birds in your patch. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Late night thoughts of an environment minister who never was


·      The concept that wilderness is not directed or controlled by man does not fit the scheme of things as envisioned by this cabinet. These fools cannot understand why cranes are seen now and then in certain habitats, and not always, or why they do not hurry thither when needed. Cranes are not subject to censuses, as humans. They cannot be ordered to stay put because census officials are going to drop in. Their absence does not mean they are non-existent, or have abandoned the area just because they are not present when required! A census of cranes has to occur during crane time, or it is bound to fail.
·      These people cannot comprehend why a small population of cranes matters, or why a place of their intermittent occurrence is as important as that of so called iconic species. That an entire world can exist amidst an ecologically interrelated environment is beyond their ken, whose myopia restricts their vision to a world created by man and fuelled by the dread of the bottom-line; by the balance that weighs success or failure annually rather than in cycles of years that suit the longer, ecological view of our lonely planet. Tragically, such visionary, long views are in short supply.
·      My colleagues have intellects that are hard wired to the short-term view. That is the limit of their horizon. The longer view, one that considers earth time—that believes in the cycle of seasons that modify landscapes—in its constant tick towards ecological stability, is, well, Greek and Latin to them. Now, if even the babus, those with the sharpest intellects, bend towards the dangerous concept of measuring the worth of wilderness areas, and what that wilderness should ‘serve’, there is something seriously wrong with our education system for one, and with us, as humans, for another, for lucre is the maya that blindsides us from rationality.
·      These people need to understand that the environment cannot be restarted, like some sick industry, with a dose of capital. It cannot be restricted to a five-year development cycle. Artificial time limits cannot govern natural time cycles; artificial inputs do not easily return predictable results from ‘natural’ applications.
·      And, unlike capital, land cannot be created, for one cannot print topsoil, mint water, or write a cheque to substitute trophic diversity; but protect these judiciously and the country’s natural capital will boost her commerce among the nations of the world.
·      How do I drill it into their thick skulls that the natural wealth of a country is a gigantic fixed deposit fund that is self-perpetuating. It has come free to us and therefore needs to be assiduously protected and thriftily allocated.
·      In the country’s balance sheet, its environment health is its primary intangible asset. If only governments monetized it and weighed its annual loss, they would see the one-way drain on the exchequer. Once this reaches a tipping point, no amount of restorative packages will salvage the economy.
·      Wilderness works without leave or license from mankind, and even despite us. Nature cannot be forced to work to our time schedules. Look to our children; are we able to make them adults before two decades? If we allow them that time, then surely we can plan an environmental revival that spans at least that time span as an incontrovertible investment in their future.

·      By now you must have got the hint why I never made it…

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A plague of pigeons

It is difficult to imagine our iconic symbol of peace, the dove, metamorphose into an emissary of death. That’s just what’s happening in our burgeoning and congested urban areas. This is not some Hitchcockian vendetta. Indeed, the birds are innocent and ignorant, but they have help—from us.
I am talking of the apparently innocent, slyly endearing feral Rock Pigeon Columba livia, aka ‘kabootar’, or ‘pavuram’ (in Telugu). Before elaborating upon my seriously accusatory beginning, let me fleetingly touch upon antecedents of pigeon-human interactions. These birds originally inhabited rocks, and cliffs, where they nested, and eked out their lives. But their association with mankind has evolved over aeons. They’ve been a part of the weave of worldwide civilizations and cultures.[1] With the formation of towns and cities, they became our commensals, adapting to the facilities our clustered environments provided them. It was a more involved relationship in the past when we used them for sport and pastime, for service (pigeon post), and as food. With the advance of our civilization, and the diminution of leisure, kabootarbazi has all but disappeared; technological advance in communications has retrenched the messenger pigeons; and the poultry industry has removed the roast squab from our menus.
Our spiritual inclinations too have fanned expansive pigeon colonization. The Prophet Mohammed (AD 570–632) is thought to have received divine messages from a dove sitting on his shoulder; the pigeon / dove is mentioned in the Rig Veda (1500–2000 BC); for the Sikhs it is a bird of peace, always depicted with Guru Gobind Singh, symbolizing amity and peace in fractious times; and had the dove not returned at eventide with a fresh sprig in its beak, poor Noah would have had a hard time of it [Source: www.pigeoncontrolresourcecentre.org/html/about-pigeons.html]. Rationality has seldom been religion’s strength. The nuance and symbolism of religion and history have become gospel, and human acts related to them, even if irrational, assume the invisible sanction of communities at large, and the faithful in particular. In a world torn apart by fractious sectarian strife, we ‘worship’ this symbol of peace, pandering a mere icon, and ignoring the message in real life situations. Such misguided whims radiate through communities and congeal into deceptive folly. Blind faith can be a Trojan horse. The explosion of rock pigeon populations in our cities is a direct result of this conundrum.
The compassionate act of feeding pigeons has become an overzealous absurdity that supposedly imparts spiritually elevated feelings of benevolence. In our religious fervor we feed feral pigeons vast quantities of grain. We strew it charitably in public places and enjoy emotions of well being from this act of ‘piety’, but spilt grain brings not peace, only huge quantities of poop from booming pigeon populations! No scripture desires the faithful to feed pigeons enmasse, though they warn of the folly of excess, which we conveniently forget.
Meanwhile, the birds have become emboldened beyond redemption. Their Pavlovian instincts are easy to train. With an unending, year-round supply of grain, and water, they need only breed and perpetuate their kind. Our beehive-dense urban agglomerations provide a plethora of ideal nesting places where pigeons breed unhindered. Their traditional predators, Peregrine Falcons, are migrants to India, preferring to patrol coastal areas. Few come inland. Their resident cousin, the Shaheen, is a forest dweller. Feral cats are simply too few, and have easier food available to them, from our garbage, to bother expending energy hunting pigeons. Feral pigeons prosper in this heavenly urbania.

The problem
The problem with feral pigeons is that they produce major antigens from their droppings, feathers, and blood that cause diseases in humans. This is a known historical fact amongst pigeon fanciers—those who indulge in ‘kabootarbazee’. People who have dovecotes, who race pigeons, or once used them to carry messages, are prone to the malady called ‘pigeon-fancier’s lung’; a pulmonary condition. Pigeons, along with other birds like parakeets, and ducks also cause a number of other zoonotic diseases: Histoplasmosis (caused by the airborne fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, which grows in the bird’s droppings.), Cryptococcosis (another fungus, Cryptococcus neoformans); Psittacosis, Toxoplasmosis, etc. When pigeons are concentrated in large numbers, and live in close proximity to us, the chances of infection increases alarmingly.
The grave concern about the relationship between feral pigeons and human health is the bird’s unrestricted population explosion in congested urban built up areas. We live in dangerously close contact with them, given the number of diseases they cause. We pamper them with food and water, we accept them as neighbours, we tolerate their droppings, their feathers, the mess of their nests, and their vocalisations. We accept all this because living in unsanitary surrounds does not seem to bother us. We are a tolerant lot. As long as the garbage is outside our homes, our compounds, it’s not our problem. We don’t also complain to civic authorities for the result of that is, invariably, a series of unwanted headaches; not the desired remedy. We also tend to ignore the fact that epidemics explode in congested areas in which the causative antigen-producing agent is also included.

The disease
In recent years it has been established that pigeons are one of the causes of a somewhat mysterious lung disease, Hypersensitive Pneumonitis (‘HP’), which is one of the several forms of Pulmonary Fibrosis. HP suggests itself on a chest X-ray and produces a distinctive pattern on a CT scan. The threat is so serious, that Pulmonologists frequently advise their patients to rid their environs of pigeons, or even change their neighborhoods!
To be fair to the bird, there are nearly 150 other identified causes for Pulmonary Fibrosis, related in one way or another largely to moldy substances, or the presence of dust in the various forms of work that men and women do. Contaminated water, extremely humid work conditions, and various chemicals are also suspect. Given this variety of causes, implicating the pigeon may prove difficult—and indeed, seem a tad extreme to some people. Yet, it cannot be denied that the pigeon is one of the commonest offenders in the propagation of HP, and doctors find it difficult to ignore such a patently obvious aetiological agent—especially one that can be ‘eliminated’ easily (see below).
We don’t know yet why Pulmonary Fibrosis strikes, and we don’t know yet how to cure it. Till a cure is found, we need to tackle what’s known: Whether this involves giving up some habits, curbing irrational pseudo-religious activities, or reducing unnaturally burgeoning wild animal / bird populations. Our addictions, even to vague religious sentiments, make us overwhelmingly selfish. We crave satiety at any cost—until the addiction catches up with the addict, or a loved one. (Tobacco ravages mankind like a scourge; yet it is sustained by the economies it spawns.) But the feral pigeon is no longer a commercial option. It merrily thrives on our gullibility.
Meanwhile, Pulmonary Fibrosis is making rapid and catastrophic progress in our urban areas. People working in certain professions, or atmospheric conditions, are more prone to it historically. But the urban pigeon problem has now created a ‘new’ source of the disease, which now strikes unchallenged across the spectrum of our social orders. A majority of its tragic victims remain unknown, but there are some it has struck, or felled that we have held in high esteem: Marlon Brando, Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Laurance Rockefeller, James Doohan (Star Trek), Peter Benchley (author of Jaws), and many others.[2] Once afflicted,[3] a patient is prescribed cortico-steroidal drugs, which have the potential to suppress the natural immune defenses of the body. The soft tissue of the lungs gradually stiffens like cardboard, effectively dying, shrinking the tissue that helps absorb the life-giving oxygen into the blood.[4] Breathing becomes an ordeal for the patient. Simple actions like talking, sitting down, standing up, sleeping and turning in bed, eating, drinking, all result in erratic levels of breathlessness, becoming moments of discomfort and adversity, and indeed, even fear and apprehension. Gradually even the personal dignity of privacy in toilets is compromised. No one should suffer this if we can help it, or even mitigate it.

A solution
All is not lost. There is at least a partial solution to the problem. We have encouraged and allowed the feral pigeon to expand its populations without bounds. It is in our hands to reduce its numbers. The remedy is simple; it involves no action, and saves money all around, a win-win situation really. Let us resolve to stop feeding pigeons. Stop scattering grain in public places, in open spaces, on rooftops, on pavements, in compounds, and around places of worship (disease knows no religion). Pigeon populations will automatically collapse. Let us make the feeding of pigeons in public places a punishable offence (by imposing fines), as has been done with resounding success around Trafalgar Square in London, and in several other cities, including San Francisco, Venice, Albuquerque, New Jersey, Ontario, etc. The Municipal Commissioner of Greater Hyderabad should take action under Section 565 of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation Act, 1955.
Without food pigeon populations will crash. The birds will not breed. They will gradually thin out, and disperse into an increasingly wider geographical area. The processes of nature will take over, forcing them to forage for themselves—as it should be.
Human suffering will reduce, lives, and money will be saved—no more expense on grain, on sanitation, and no more filthy buildings. Those with charitable inclinations might even reorient their largess towards destitute and poor people. Let us restore this fallen dove of death to its rightful place as an icon of amity and goodwill.


[1] Cocker, M., & Tipling, D., 2013. Birds and people. 1st ed. London: Jonathan Cape.  Pp. 1–592.
[3] Statically data is lacking, but anecdotal impressions of pulmonologists indicate scores of new cases of ILD every week just in Hyderabad. Projections for the country boggle the mind. There cannot be a more compelling reason to tackle the pigeon problem swiftly and resolutely.
[4] ILD affects the interstitium, a lace-like network of tissue, which is a part of the lungs’ anatomical structure. This gets scarred, causing, what is called, Idiopathic [=the cause of which is unknown] Pulmonary Fibrosis [=scarring].