| A peacock flaunts its plume. File picture
Rajhat (Hooghly), June 1: A mystery disease is taking its toll of the peacock population in this village, about 50 km off Calcutta.
Residents recovered five dead birds in the past week from thickets and the river Kunti here. More than 1,000 peacocks and peahens roam Gandhigram, Barakpore, Sugandhya, Uttarpara and Dakshinpara. Bird-watchers flock the villages for a glimpse of the national bird in the wild.
Two of the dead fowls, taken for post-mortem by the state veterinary services, were said to have died because of pesticides used on crops in the area. “The vets recovered bits of pesticide-laced brinjal from their stomachs,” said additional district magistrate Khalil Ahmed.
Activists of a local conservation committee had deposited a dead peacock and a peahen in the hands of officers at the Polba police station. The birds were found in the Kunti while the group was conducting a routine survey. The police learnt about three more deaths later.
Secretary of the local NGO Nimai Jana alleged that though Rajhat was the only habitat for peacocks in south Bengal, no initiative had been taken by the government or the district administration to save the birds. “The authorities should have probed whether they were dying of some disease after the series of deaths,” Jana said.
It is believed that peacocks kept as pets by local zamindars increased in numbers over the years to give Rajhat its identity. Now, the panchayat samity here has set up a picnic spot, Mayur Mahal, on a 20-bigha plot. Each group of picnickers has to pay Rs 20 to use the premises.
Last year, too, there was a spell when several peacocks in the area were reported dead. The situation was brought under control by administering medicine, prescribed and supplied by the state forest department, with wheat.
“The zilla parishad had sent a project to the Union government in 1999 to conserve the peafowl population here but there has been no response,” said Asit Patra, the zilla parishad sabhadhipati.