India’s Kite Flying Proves Fatal to Birds

Regulations on one of India's favorite sports comes just in time for festival season.

Kite flying, wildly popular in India, is proving to be a serious hazard to birds, prompting the government to impose a curfew on the sport. Regardless of the season, children and adults can be seen launching paper and plastic kites from open roofs, dirt-logged fields, and even roadside ditches. The industry generates nearly $2 million in annual revenue, mostly from selling wiry kite string known as manja. Competitive fliers take the sport so seriously, they use cotton thread coated with powdered glass to create a weapon that is sharp enough to cut down rival kites. Unfortunately, rival kites aren't the only things that are razed.

Kites have a deadly impact on India's bird populations, a fact confirmed by the nation's Animal Welfare Board. Birds of all sizes—parrots, painted storks, doves—can have their wings severed by barely-visible kite strings. "The manja can be quite harmful to a bird's body, so even if it manages to free itself from the tangled mess, the bird can become vulnerable to predators," activist Mahesh Agarwal told The New Indian Express.

Children can fall victim to the cutting edge of the string as well. Just a few days ago the Times of India reported that a 10-year-old girl died after being injured by one. Motorists riding on scooters are also at risk of being wounded.

With the onset of festival season, volunteers will be setting up mobile treatment centers and hotlines to deal with the influx of injured birds. The Jivdaya Charitable Trust, a veterinary group, has already treated 1,500 birds. The species on the report's list of casualties range from common neighborhood pigeons, knob-billed ducks, and vultures to kites, peregrine falcons, and lesser flamingos.

To prevent the death count from escalating, the state government of Rajasthan has imposed a curfew on kite flying. An article in the Times of India last Tuesday stated that it is now illegal to operate kites from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Those in violation will be fined and imprisoned for up to six months.

In August the Animal Welfare Board of India wrote a letter to the state forest departments in support of banning manja. "Your action would help safeguard the environment for people and for animals," it said. While there hasn't been a nation-wide response yet, the mandate in Rajasthan is a critical step toward a more expansive mitigation effort. As long as humans enjoy their festivities on land, the skies will be clear and safe for the birds.

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