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Chicken figure throws up a mystery

Mumbai, Feb. 21: Maharashtra is grappling with the mystery of missing chickens.

From the declared 9 lakh birds to be culled, the number has overnight shrunk to just over 2 lakh.

The sharp fall has prompted chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to ask officials to carry out a probe. The officials are now expected to approach poultry owners in Navapur, where culling is in progress, with the baffling question.

According to the initial assessment, a total of about 9 lakh birds were to be culled but the number has since “declined” to about 2 lakh, the chief minister said today.

Deshmukh said the administration would ask poultry owners to furnish the number of chickens either sold or buried by them before the official culling operation commenced on February 18. “We will go through their records which have been seized,” he said.

Till yesterday, 94,000 chickens had been culled, Deshmukh said, adding that another 50,000 birds were culled today. Culling in 15 of the 16 affected farms had been completed.

Deshmukh confirmed that the collector of Nandurbar, the district in which Navapur is located, had issued a showcause notice to Venkateshwara Hatcheries, the original suppliers of the chicks that later tested positive for bird flu.

However, .P. Singh, the chief executive officer of Venkateshwara Hatcheries, said the company has not received any notice.

Singh said in Pune that the firm was not the only supplier of chicks to Navapur and that the poultry farms there were not franchisees of the company.

He said animal husbandry officers of the state government routinely check the breeders’ flocks at various poultry farms and issue certificates. “Therefore, it is unfair to allege as an afterthought that the ‘infected chicks of Navapur’ had been supplied by the company,” he said.

The chief minister said no case of bird flu has been detected anywhere else in the state but the animal husbandry department was on its toes in the morning following a report that over 1,000 chickens died in central Maharashtra’s Hingoli on Monday.

Hingoli is about 480 km east of Navapur, where the outbreak has been confirmed. Sources in the department said a few blood samples of the dead birds from Hingoli have been sent to the disease investigation section of the state government in Pune. Samples have also been sent to Bhopal.

The department’s regional director, R.K. Jondhale, said the samples have been sent for tests as a “precautionary measure”.

“The deaths could be because of other reasons but we are being extra cautious and sending them (the samples) for tests. But that does not mean that there is any need for unnecessary panic. It could be unrelated to avian flu,” Jondhale said.

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