Andhra Pradesh

Spot-billed pelicans dying en masse in Naupada swamp

Spot-billed pelicans that succumbed to the nematode infestation at Telineelapuram Important Bird Area (IBA) in Naupada swamp of Srikakulam district.

Spot-billed pelicans that succumbed to the nematode infestation at Telineelapuram Important Bird Area (IBA) in Naupada swamp of Srikakulam district.

A nematode infestation has led to mass mortality of spot-billed pelicans (Pelicanus philippensis) at Telineelapuram Important Bird Area (IBA) in Naupada swamp of Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh.

Over 150 spot-billed pelicans have succumbed to the infestation since December, according to Forest officials, with 21 birds dying in the past 72 hours alone.

As of Wednesday, nearly 200 adult spot-billed pelicans are surviving in the habitat, where they are breeding during their annual sojourn in the swamp. If the mortality rate continues unchecked, the species is likely to disappear completely from the swamp in a matter of days.

Only adult birds have succumbed to the infestation till date. Until now, in South India, the Telineelapuram IBA is the prime winter sojourn for the spot-billed pelican for breeding. The same IBA is also a breeding habitat for the painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala).

Wildlife Institute of India (WII-Dehradun) expert in animal ecology, migration, and movement studies Dr. R. Suresh Kumar spoke to The Hindu regarding the mass deaths. “Preliminary inquiry suggests that nematode infestation is the cause for the death of the spot-billed pelicans that prey on nearby water bodies. The nematode parasite is suspected to be transferred through fish and snails in particular, when the birds prey in the aqua ponds. At Telineelapuram IBA, the death rate is a case of mass mortality,” he said.

Dr. Suresh Kumar had studied the mortality of spot-billed pelicans in Karnataka State between 2017-19. “In Karnataka, the nematode infestation has started taking a toll on spot-billed pelicans since 2017. Post-2019, the death toll had fallen. In all the affected habitats, only the spot-billed pelican is dying due to the infestation. No other species has been affected,” he observed.

Locals alerted

“Until now, the mortality of spot-billed pelican has been reported in groups. There is no impact on painted stork which breeds in the same habitat. The post-mortem reports have certified parasitic (nematode) infestation as the cause of death,” said Srikakulam In-Charge District Forest Officer S. Venkatesh.

“Aquaculture management practices surrounding the habitat are said to be the source for the parasite. We have alerted the locals and steps are being taken to prevent further death toll of the migrant bird species,” added Mr. Venkatesh.

The nematode infestation would not spread from one species to another species as per the studies carried out by the experts in Karnataka State. “The way the infestation transfers from the fish, snails, and invertebrates is complex. It is purely related to water and aqua ponds,” said Dr. Suresh Kumar.

The spot-billed pelican is capable of hunting huge fish from the water bodies and swamps and thus, it is vulnerable to infestation. Thousands of spot-billed pelicans and a few hundred painted storks migrate from the Siberian region to breed in the Telineelapuram IBA and a majority of them prefer to stay here instead of going back home.


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Printable version | May 21, 2022 6:19:49 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/spot-billed-pelicans-dying-en-masse-in-naupada-swamp/article38330892.ece