Cyclone Phailin took a profound toll on the colony of Asian open billed storks living in a coastal wetlands on the Bay of Bengal, in Andhra Pradesh. The VSPCA (Visakha Society for Prevention and Care of Animals) has protected and cared for these wild storks for a number of years, working with village people to protect their habitat and prevent poaching.
The storks migrate to Telekunchi in Icchapuram, at the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh, in the Srikakulam District.
Pradeep Nath, Founder and CEO of VSPCA, writes that the birds “have met with a disastrous situation due to the super cyclone ‘Phailin’ that ripped through north Andhra Pradesh and Orissa in the early hours of October 12.
“Some 4,000 storks perished that night. Another 2,000 were left grounded with trauma, fright, separated from their families and abandoned, terribly wet and unable to move and feed by themselves.”
Quite a number were injured and “around 33 were just chicks who required hand feeding.”
The day after the cyclone hit, a VSPCA team was out combing the beach looking for injured animals, moving north from the town of Srikakulam towards Palasa, when they began to get calls about the storks in distress.
They immediately left the beach and traveled to Icchapuram to aid the birds.
Arriving on the site, the VSPCA team began rescuing hundreds of birds, providing emergency treatment and medical care.
For weeks, they worked to save the lives of the birds, setting up a hospital in a darkened school building, with open doors and windows, in conditions that could not be kept sanitary. Outside there were fallen trees and electric poles. The power was always out.”
In these far from ideal conditions, the VSPCA team did a heroic job, despite not having much in the way of good food, or a proper place to stay, or a chance to catch up on sleep.
Pradeep Nath explains “We focused on keeping the birds warm, cleaning them, providing vitamins, and supportive care. Soon, around 1,650 birds were strong enough to fly up into the trees.
“Seeing them active and able to fly gave us a huge sense of relief.”
Progress made despite difficulties
Over the next few days, there was quite a lot of flooding, but they were still able to make progress in getting the remaining birds back on their feet.
“Some of the birds were injured, and there were very critical cases too, requiring special treatments. Following our appeal, teams from Wildlife Trust of India, Wildlife SOS, and PFA – Bangalore came to help out. Saleem Hameed, an experienced wildlife rehabilitator, sent by PFA – Bangalore, stayed and worked with us for an entire week.
“The WTI sent a second vet a few days later, after we again appealed for help because of renewed flooding, including in the wetlands where the bird colony lives.
“The 350 birds that had remained in the school for special attention were treated, and later on, having recovered well, many were released.
“Quite a few walked out of the building, which did not have doors and windows, on their own, as soon as they felt better.
“Sadly, some had died from infections or from severe injuries.
“After a week, we had less than 46 still in our care and under close watch.”
Heavy rains bring a turn for the worse
Unfortunately, all did not continue to go well, and on October 19, there was a disastrous turn in the weather. Heavy, pounding rains came in from the coast. The rain did not stop falling and inundated the entire state, especially the coastal areas.
The weather was so bad that roads became impassable, and the team, who were staying nearby in Icchapuram, had trouble reaching the birds to give them food and medicine.
On top of that, because birds, when subjected to extreme stress and bad weather, lose their water proofing, which causes them to become cold and ill — many of the storks could not withstand the heavy rains. Many had to be recaptured, dried, and warmed up. Keeping them warm and finding adequate supplies of food for them was a struggle.
The skies clear
Eventually, the rains dissipated. Fortunately, in the end, they were left with only one bird that could not be released. This bird will either be placed with the Forest Department or will have a home at the VSPCA Kindness Farm.
Sadly, some of the recaptured storks died. All the others have been rereleased, are gaining strength day by day, and bit by bit are making their way up into the trees.
The VSPCA team has stayed with the birds throughout all the flooding and the many challenges, doing everything possible to care for them, and they continue to provide food for those still on the ground.
Pradeep Nath writes, “Our team will continue to stay until 100% of the work for the safety of the birds has been done. We have identified one elderly person who will represent us and inform us of any problems. Our team will continue to help the birds on the ground until they fly up to the trees and then onwards. And our team will encourage local authorities to inform people using vehicles to go slowly in these areas because there are many birds still on the ground.
“At the moment, our work for the Asian open billed stork is almost done. We will be there only another week or ten days.
“It is so heartening to see them flying higher and higher in the skies.”
Thanks to VSPCA for their steadfast help for these magnificent birds caught in such a perilous situation.
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Photos: © VSPCA