Saturday, May 9, 2015

When Parrots Go Cold Turkey

The sad lot of the opium addicted parrots of India. This article, in its entirety, appeared on the Times of India website, May 1, 2015:

The parrots who have been feasting on the poppy seeds for the past few months, will not survive without their regular dose of addiction.

CHITTORGARH: Around this time in the poppy fields of Chittorgarh district, many a parrot will perish. The carcasses of these dead birds will be dismembered by crows, that wait for this opportunity. The opium season has ended around 15 days back and the pods have been removed from the fields. These parrots, who have been feasting on the poppy seeds from these pods for the past few months, will now be without their regular dose of addiction, without which, they will not survive.

"It is inevitable," Nandkishore Dhakar, an opium farmer in Sukhwara village of Chittorgarh district is sure that this dance of death will be enacted again. "This phenomenon has never failed," he continues. "These birds break open the pods and devour the seeds still drenched in the milky fluid." This fluid has a cocktail of alkaloids that can enslave the mind. Soon these parrots become addicts and this drug becomes essential for their survival.

"Once we cut the pods, they are deprived of their addiction. They lose their appetite, start behaving strangely and even lose the will to live. Eventually, they just die." It's a sad truth, but for these parrots, their first taste of poppy seeds is also their first step towards death. And death is a certainty , says Nandkishore. "Each one of them will die," he proclaims in a matter-of-fact way.

Of course, for Nandkishore and his ilk, it also means wastage of precious opium, which fetches them huge profit. This farmer is one of the 25 in the village who has been able to hold on to his licence granted by the narcotics department to cultivate opium.

Nandkishore has devoted half-a-bigha of his farm for poppy . From a quintal of opium production, he earns Rs 30,000. When you compare that with other farmers who grow lady finger and earn just Rs 3,000 for the same amount, you would know why Nandkishore continues to nurture poppy plants in the winters despite all the problems associated with it.

Parrots are not the only reasons for loss. Nilgai are a much bigger menace, more so when they come in the darkness of night. "Parrots damage a few pods, but Nilgai destroy the entire crop," Mukesh Dhakar, who lost his opium-farming licence around 10 years ago, informs. "They come in groups, trample crops, eat the plants and run away before we can do anything."

The solution: spend night after night on the field with enough arsenal to scare away these mammals. The narcotics officials are rarely willing to accept nilgai or parrots as excuses to revise the minimum acceptable yield set for the season.

Nilgai too become addicts, says Mukesh. "If a Nilgai gets the taste of opium, he will come every night, disregarding the dangers." But unlike parrots, they are a lot more resistant to the change when the opium season is over. "If the nilgai doesn't get poppy, he will soon start eating other crops. There are no side effects to show," informs Mukesh.

However, for the fragile parrots, this addiction is a matter of life and death. Next season, a new group of parrots will sink their beaks into opium-rich pods and become addicts. And their days will be numbered.

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