The plight of Delhi’s black kites, wounded by the pastime that shares their name
Oliver Whang meets the bird rescuers risking everything to care for the creatures they loveKhalid Faraj Al Wadihi / SWNS 13/13 Durdle Door, Dorset Clive Greenland / SWNS The crushed glass gives manja enough texture to sever the strings of other kites in informal neighbourhood competitions, but it can be fatal. Every year a dozen residents – speeding motorcyclists, rickshaw drivers, young children – are killed when glass-encrusted thread falls and wraps around their necks. In 2017, the city banned the use of manja , but to little effect; the thread is still sold in many streetside markets and can be found on almost every kite in the air. It is a particular threat to birds. Thousands have their wings slashed in the mild weather of late summer and autumn, and are sent tumbling down to the crowded streets below. Back in 1997, the brothers took the injured black kite they had found – its wing torn by a paper kite – to the Charity Bird Hospital, the largest and oldest bird hospital in the city and one of several animal hospitals established by Jains in New Delhi. An Indian vet treats a sick black kite (Getty) A core tenet of Jainism, a small but influential religion in India, is ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence and compassion toward all forms of life. On a wall of the Charity Bird Hospital, located within Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, a Jain temple with tall red spires, is a painting of a Jain king sacrificing his arm, then his foot and eventually his life to save a pigeon. If an injury to a black kite was serious, the hospital would turn the bird away, knowing it would starve if kept for more than a day The practice of ahimsa benefits wildlife but can also complicate procedures in animal hospitals. Elsewhere, a wild animal would be euthanised if it had no chance of being rehabilitated to its habitat, but Jains do not euthanise. Instead, they care for seriously injured birds, in cages, until they die. Jains also do not handle meat on temple grounds. Consequently, the Charity Bird Hospital refused to accept the kite – a carnivore – that Shehzad and Saud found. Dr Nidish Bharadwaj, one of the hospital’s veterinarians, said in an interview that he has tried to feed raptors a mixture of cheese and soybeans, but it is not enough. If an injury to a black kite was serious, the hospital would turn the bird away, knowing it would starve if kept for more than a day. A death sentence either way. At the time, Shehzad was confused by this logic. “Why is there discrimination between a vegetarian and a nonvegetarian?” he thought. As Muslims, both he and Saud eat meat, and they took the hospital’s rejection personally. “It hit us somewhere inside, because we were nonvegetarian ourselves,” he says. The brothers brought the kite back to where they had found it. They could do nothing else. Over time and with the help of a number of local veterinarians, Shehzad and Saud started treating the birds themselves. They collected kites from the Charity Bird Hospital and other Jain-owned hospitals, and brought them back to their basement in Wazirabad to care for them. There, the brothers learnt how to clean and bandage open wounds, unwrap wings from tangled manja and feed raptors raw buffalo meat out of the palms of their hands. We have destroyed our relations with our friends, our relatives, our wives, our parents, even our 2- and 4-year-old children Ninety percent of the kites that Saud and Shehzad collect have wings slashed by manja, and about half of these die from gangrene or infection. Most are gone cases before they enter the basement room; others must be euthanised by a veterinarian. The kites that are nursed back to health are brought up three narrow flights of stairs to the roof, where they join several dozen other birds in various states of recovery, packed into three wire cages. The largest cage has an open top that fully rehabilitated kites can use as a gate of reentry to the city. Near the house, released kites, healthy enough to fly short distances, perch in rows on rooftops and window sills. Shehzad and Saud estimate that they have treated 20,000 black kites in the past 20 years. They sometimes dedicate more than 12 hours a day to treating birds; Saud says that he sometimes misses dinner while caring for kites and rarely finds time to play or do homework with his young son. A black kite flies past the Indian flag in New Delhi (AFP/Getty) The organisation’s expenses – equipment, veterinarian, transportation and more than 500 pounds of meat every month – have also placed a financial burden on the brothers. They have financed the operation entirely with the profits from their family’s liquid-soap dispenser manufacturing business, which they run out of their basement next to the small room filled with injured birds. They receive almost no support from the government; their grant requests have been rejected for a variety of bureaucratic reasons, but Shehzad is suspicious. He thinks it has something to do with the fact that Wildlife Rescue treats nonvegetarian birds, and that he is a Muslim. His wife, Tabassum Shehzad, sympathises with his calling, and sometimes even helps to feed the birds. Nonetheless, she says, her husband is “ruining his life”. She might not have married him had she known things would go this way. Read more Read more: The Independent
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