Does anyone care about the peacocks in Thar?

Published: March 18, 2011
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The long-tail blue peacock, peculiar to the subcontinent, is a distinct specie.

Are you aware, ladies and gentlemen, of what Tharparker’s peacocks are going through?

According to a news report a strange disease is stalking them. The infected bird develops a bulge in the neck which keeps growing and then bursts. From this sore a worm crawls out. The beautiful bird turns blind and pretty soon stops breathing.

The report says in Khipri and Islamkot areas of Tharparker district the situation is so bad that as many as 10 birds are dying a day from the mystery disease.

The Thar peacocks did not have it easy even before this epidemic, the ever-expanding human settlements increasingly polluting and degrading their habitat.

Given clean air and a habitat unaffected by human presence, monsoons inspire peacocks to such celebration that the entire jungle resonate with it. The showers over, it emerges with a swagger and starts dancing. Actually the Urdu cliché about peacock dance being an exclusive pleasure is quite unfair. Should it instead seek out the helter-skelter of human settlements? The report points out that the practice of capturing peacocks and keeping them at bungalows too has affected the birds’ health.

But this is far from the worst thing humans have done to these birds. Rajasthan area of India had long been home to a large, prosperous peacock population. I remember how approaching Jaipur on my first visit there, I noticed peacocks strutting around in the surrounding hills. At the Jaipur rest house where I stayed they started arriving in the afternoon and by the evening the upper courtyard was full of them.

I returned home with the scenic image etched in my memory. Later, when India tested a nuclear weapon in the area, I noticed a small story on one of the inner pages that said the blast had polluted Rajasthan’s atmosphere. There was a lot of alarming news those days but this little story worried me the most.

I prayed a lot and very earnestly for Rajasthan’s peacocks but visiting Jaipur, some years later, I neither saw a peacock in the Pink City nor heard its resounding footfall. The Pink City did not look so pink to me and I returned home much saddened.

We, the humans, are coping somehow with the impact of the ever new weapons and ammunitions that are our fate on account of the modern technology. In fact the brutal instinct in us even derives a certain stupid pleasure from it and makes us boast about them. The wildlife in the subcontinent’s deserts and jungles, however, has not evolved into so wild and brutal a species as to live contentedly among these riches. I am worried thus whether the cursed new disease is in some way related to similar factors.

The long-tail blue peacock, peculiar to the subcontinent, is a distinct specie.

The tail, nothing like any other bird’s, endows its stately gait with remarkable elegance. During its famous dance, it blossoms into an elaborate fan.

But peacocks, dears, are on their way out. The report says their numbers are dwindling at such a rate that experts fear their extinction in Pakistan. Amazing, for it’s not as if Pakistan has large peacock populations everywhere. Tharparker was the only place where the bird still thrived. It’s a shame therefore that the authorities have been unable to protect even the handful.

The report says there has been no effort ever to assess the situation. It is not clear therefore how many peacocks there are and whether the numbers are increasing or declining. The natives say there is an epidemic, the peacocks are dying and nobody from the Wildlife Department has strayed to the area to see what ails them.

Does somebody care for the poor peacock, the bird from heaven, stranded in our Thar desert?

Published in The Express Tribune.

If you would like to get in touch with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, contact them here.

Intezar Hussain

Intezaar Hussain

An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.