Three months ago, Pawan Sharma, the founder and president of Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare (RAWW), received a call from the Forest department. Someone in Andheri had come across a peahen, paralysed and close to death. “One more day and it would have gone,” says Sharma.
Sharma reckons that the bird was captured in the forest, kept in captivity and used for breeding. Her captors dumped her when she was no longer useful.
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Peacocks are bred or hunted for two reasons. “Feather craze,” says Sharma. “People like them in fans or even as bookmarks. They are used as decoration in temples and houses. Some people even believe that the feathers have medicinal properties.” Though it is legal to pick up feathers that have been shed by the birds (though not in forests), the amount of feathers on sale today can only be possible through poaching, Sharma says.
The second reason is peacock meat, which can sell for Rs5,000 to Rs20,000 per kg. However, its is very rare to catch distributors, who operate behind closed doors. “Blue chicken” is a common code word used to signify that peafowl is on sale. “We should have a cyber cell dedicated to fighting wildlife crime,” says Sharma. “Right now, it’s just not a priority.”
Sharma warns against the idea of “returning” peacocks that are found in cities to forests. “We get calls to rescue peacocks that are sitting on people’s roofs,” says Sharma. “But for urban peacocks, the forest isn’t there home — these cities are. If they are successfully surviving, there’s no need to relocate them elsewhere, especially as peacocks are territorial creatures.” He’s much more an advocate of man-animal co-existence. “We need to learn to live with these birds, and respect the city as their habitat too.”
Sadly, although peafowls are Category I species under the Wildlife Protection Act — which means that they should get the highest protection — they rarely enjoy that compared to leopards, tigers or elephants. There still hasn’t been a census or analysis of their population in Mumbai, even while their numbers are dwindling. Now, peacocks are mainly found in the periphery of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Aarey Colony, and Powai Lake.