Panic at Ghatshila

Bird deaths have been reported from Ghatshila in East Singhbhum division of Jharkhand. By February 3, 500 birds had perished. Jharkhand does not have enough laboratories to check blood samples of birds. So the cause of the deaths has not been ascertained.

The local administration rushed a team led by civil surgeon F C Hembrom to find out the cause of deaths. The team did not have any avian expert. It returned with flimsy conclusions. "The birds might have perished due to Ranikhet disease (a disease that's clinically similar to bird flu). It might also be pox. But not bird flu. We have procured medical kits, and blood samples of affected birds are being collected,' Hembrom said. The report made no mention of the disease's symptoms. The Jharkhand government has banned the inflow of poultry products from West Bengal. But the ban has been largely ineffective because it can't be enforced along borders between the two states.

"The government has not collected blood samples of birds,' K K Sharma, incharge of Ornithological Society of India for Bihar, Jharkhand and Eastern Uttar Pradesh alleged. But deputy collector of East Singhbhum, Nitin Madan Kulkarni, said the samples have been collected and will soon be sent to the Bhopal lab for medical examination. "There is no bird flu threat in the district. We are keeping a close watch and a team headed by the civil surgeon has been asked to be on guard,' he asserted.

The bird flu outbreak in West Bengal has also flummoxed Jharkhand's zoo authorities. Officials at the Birsa Munda Zoological Park in Ranchi went on a rabbit hunting spree to feed five big cats and carnivorous birds. "We panicked. The decision to procure rabbit meat was taken to replace poultry products. But our plans did not work because no agency could supply us 200 kg of rabbit meat. We decided to serve chicken boiled at above 70