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India Ep. #8: Kites, Bats & Birds

Manjah Injuries & Fatalities | Dr. Cliff Worldwide Vet

Makar Sankranti is a festival that takes place annually in India in January. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of longer days as the Sun moves into the northern hemisphere. A new harvest season begins, and on January 14th, millions of Indians honour Lord Surya, the Sun God, by flying kites. For a day, the sky turns into a colourful canvas above cities and towns across India, where kite festivals and kite-flying competitions occur.

The competitions, in particular, attract large crowds. First, contestants equip their kites with sharp blades and abrasive strings, called Manjah, a Chinese synthetic line coated with sharp metal or glass edges. Then, they skillfully use these elements to cut competitors’ kites and strings. The last kite left flying wins.

Innocuous as all of this may seem, Makar Sankranti is also when animal conservation groups prepare for the worst in India. This is when migratory birds, like the greylag goose and bar-headed goose, fly north from central Asia, passing through Northern India. The sheer density of synthetic Manjah strings turns the skies into dangerous traps. A day of fun and high jinx for humans almost always ends in deep cuts, loss of limbs and death for thousands of winged creatures, including urban pigeons, bats, pelicans and more.

And the problem does not stop there. Abandoned kites and Manjah strings caught on tree branches, rooftops, light poles and electricity wires continue to harm, maim and kill winged creatures long after humans finish celebrating.

Dr. Cliff Tends To Manjah Injuries

Dr. Cliff received a first-hand lesson about Manjah injuries during his volunteering trip to India with People for Animals, Hyderabad.

The crew attended to a Giant Fruit Bat hanging from a tree entangled in Manjah. Much to their dismay, it was dead by the time they got it down. However, they managed to catch and rescue a mate who had Manjah wrapped around its feet. After untangling the string, Dr. Cliff believed the bat was ready for release. Not so, it seemed! The bat could not fly, and Dr. Cliff suspected a ligament injury. They found a place at PFA for the bat to heal for a few days.

No sooner had he tended to the bat and a new winged patient arrived at the PFA. This time it was a pigeon who could not fly. The examination revealed a swollen carpus most likely caused by a previous break which was now infected. Dr. Cliff prescribed pain medication and antibiotics and then wrapped the wing close to the bird’s body to reduce movement in the injured joint to help it heal so they could administer physiotherapy treatments later to strengthen the wing.

The Manjah Ban

For decades, environmental organizations, including PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) India, petitioned to ban synthetic Manjah. But this only came to fruition after human fatalities started to increase from the deadly strings. Tragically, in 2016, the news of two toddlers who had their throats slit by Manjah in New Delhi propelled the government to declare synthetic Manjah illegal a year later. However, they kept the kite festivals alive by permitting biodegradable alternatives made from Psyllium Husk, sawdust and Indian Liquorice.

But this has not eliminated the problem of Manjah injuries in flying animals. People who want to can still readily purchase illegal Chinese Manjah from markets across the country. Furthermore, the legal versions continue to harm winged creatures who require open skies for their commute. Anything that obstructs their path can confuse them, cause sudden injuries and send them hurtling down to the ground. Consequently, conservation groups continue to petition for a complete ban on kite flying. In addition, some have launched educational campaigns in schools to encourage kids to celebrate the festival in ways that don’t harm animals.

PFA Hyderabad advocates for domestic animals, wildlife, lab animals as well as pets. They also investigate animal abuse in the entertainment and factory farming industries. Their success is very dependent on private donations through membership programs. For more information or to donate, visit PFA Hyderabad.

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About Dr. Cliff

Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, Wellington Veterinary Clinic

Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, is an experienced veterinarian and owner/operator of the Wellington Veterinary Hospital in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Fondly known as Dr. Cliff to his clients, he has tended to the wellness of pets and animals for over two decades. Hands-on experience in his clinic, combined with animal advocacy and rescue missions locally and across the globe, has allowed him to curate a vast body of knowledge on animal health and welfare, including preventative counselling, soft tissue surgery, advanced dental procedures, internal medicine and emergency care.

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