Saturday, March 21, 2015

Organized Parrot Drug Gangs Ravage Jaipur

The problems India's farmers face are a bit different from the problems American farmers face. This story, in its entirety, appeared in ZeeNews India, March 8, 2015:

Jaipur: Poppy farmers in the Indian State of Rajasthan's Chittorgarh district are facing a unique problem. (Editorial Note: Or, When Good Parrots Go Bad).

Parrots in the Indian State of Rajasthan slurp on the milk oozing out of cuts made in poppy pods

Come March, parrots descend on their fields in large numbers to slurp on the milk oozing out of cuts made in the pods to ripen the yield.

Opium poppy Papaver somniferum with white latex milk

"Once they have their fill they sit on trees and sleep there for hours. Some of them can be seen circling or staggering before falling from the trees due to overdose of opium," says Kishore Kumar Dhaker, a poppy farmer in the Sukwara village of Chittorgarh. Several parrots are also found dead on the ground, some killed in their somnolent state by predatory birds. There are other birds in the area, but parrots seem particularly to be attracted to the intoxicating produce. No one seems to know why.

Farmers are annoyed with the 'winged thieves' as the avian addiction eats into their profit. Moreover, the narcotics department officials look with suspicion at their explanation of a shortfall. According to the terms of their licence, low output can result in the permit being denied in future. Poppy farming is a highly controlled activity since its product, morphine, commands very high prices in the illegal narcotics trade.

Farmers say five to seven per cent of their yield is eaten up by the parrots, despite precautions to frighten them away. "It is difficult to control these parrots. We have to spend hours in our fields to shoo them away," says Bhairulal Jat, another poppy farmer from the same village.

Some farmers use nets to cover their fields, some try to scare them away by beating on tin cans while a few carry catapults with them. "We are not able to sleep fully in the night," says Jat.

Dhaker, whose family has been in opium farming for over four decades, says the birds are addicted to opium because he has been seeing this happening for several years, in March and April, when the poppy seeds are cut to make their milk turn brown for harvesting.

Traditionally poppy farming is carried out in Chittorgarh, Baran, Jhalawar, Udaipur and Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan and usually at the start of March when the plant blooms.

As per the Central Bureau of Narcotics website, opium poppy farming involves lancing and collection of latex from the incised capsule or pod. It is a skilled and laborious job requiring considerable manpower to accomplish the task in a short time span. The capsule is the most important part of the plant as it provides raw opium - a milky exudate. It contains about 70 percent of the total morphine synthesised by the plant.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Meant To Be Free

We have a soft spot for mushy stories about parrots that have happy endings. This article, in its entirety, written by a columnist under the name Chauburji, appeared in The Nation Pakistan, March 9, 2015:

One of my domestic help hailed from a village in Mohmand Agency. This individual stayed with the family for around fourteen years, serving us faithfully and then bid us goodbye to take care of his meagre land holding, which had become unproductive because of his continued absence. Like all good people, he was a great animal lover – a quality which resonated perfectly with me and my brood.

It was one of those bright sunny afternoons, when he turned up carrying a green ball of mud splattered feathers in his cupped hands and gingerly handed it over to me. I held the little parrot and to my horror found that one of its legs was dangling at an unnatural angle. The nature of the injury convinced me that it had been inflicted either by a callous human or by an animal higher up in the food chain. We gingerly set the limb in makeshift splints and bandaged it, while a small red beak tried weakly to sample our fingers. We then tended to the bird day and night and watched nature’s marvelous healing process take hold.
The latest member of our family gradually adopted me as its surrogate parent. He (the gender discovery came about much later) was named ‘Mian Mithoo’ simply for want of a better name and turned out to be a standup comedian par excellence. His favorite perch was on top of a metal piece of art on the mantelpiece, where he would sit all day long giving ‘I dare you’ looks to anyone who tried to approach him. As I returned from my office and entered the gate, he uncannily became aware of my arrival and emitted strange sounds, turning round and round on his perch. My appearance at the door would generate a fresh burst of energy signified by the flapping of wings and a change of perch from the mantelpiece to my shoulder. Efforts to dislodge the wonderful rascal, so that I could have my sustenance were foiled, forcing me to have my mug of tea and biscuits much like Long John Silver.

As ‘Mithoo’ reached his prime, his flights became longer and more and more oriented towards the window. Around this time we decided to move our residence to another sector and had barely settled into our new home, when an open door provided the sought after opportunity to ‘Mian Ji’. A panicky shout from one of my children was enough to tell me that our green feathered family member had escaped. I rushed to the first floor terrace and saw the familiar figure flying round in circles above the house, oblivious of all the commotion he had caused on the ground. Suddenly he appeared to have decided on a destination and was soon beyond our sight. Utterly crestfallen and sad, I bid him goodbye and rejoined my family downstairs.

As dusk arrived, I began coping with horrific scenarios, where our parrot always ended up becoming cat-meal. I made one last trip to the terrace and stood watching the sun slowly sink behind the Margalla Hills, when something ‘whirred’ out of the gathering darkness and I felt a familiar weight on my shoulder followed instantly by a cold nibble on my ear lobe. I gave a whoop of joy and rushed down the stairs with the news, and a somber evening turned jovial to celebrate the ‘return of the prodigal’.

‘Mian Mithoo’ took flight twice more after this incident, but always returned, till I was advised firmly to clip his wings. I ignored the suggestion on the plea that birds were created with the ability to fly and that neither I nor anyone else was empowered to change what nature had provided. Then one day, carrying ‘Mithoo’ out on the lawn, I heard and then saw a flock of green parrots flying overhead. As on cue, the bird in my hands began squirming and biting in the most frantic manner. Seconds later, realization dawned on me and with a tearful look at my wonderful companion, I released him. A most wonderful thing then happened – ‘my’ parrot raced to join the flock, raising a cacophony of sounds and I watched in awe as the whole group turned back and circled above the house as if performing a final farewell manoeuvre. I never saw ‘Mian Mithoo’ again, but I have been happy in the knowledge that he is amongst his own kind and free as he was always meant to be.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

For the Love of Parrots

Ancient Hindu Proverb:

One day a man asked God: What is your love and what is my love?

God replied, son do you see the parrots flying in the sky?
That is my love...

And do you see the parrot caged in your house by you?
That is your love....