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Animal death enigma

LARGE flocks of birds, millions of fish and other animals have been reported dead recently in different parts of the world, running wildlife experts off their feet in determining the reasons behind this bizarre spate of mass deaths.

The recent mystery began when about 3,000 blackbirds fell from the sky on New Year's Eve in the small town of Beebe, Arkansas in the United States. Several days later, similar incidents occurred in Louisiana and Kentucky. On January 5, dozens of jackdaws were found dead on the snow-crusted streets of Stockholm, Sweden. The mystery deepened when 8,000 turtle doves rained down in Faenza, Italy.

Meanwhile, millions of fish also died in mysterious circumstances. In the US, over two million were washed up in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and thousands of drum fish met a similar fate along a stretch of the Arkansas River, while tons of fish have been constantly reported dead in coastal areas of Brazil.

Another 40,000 dead velvet swimming crabs were washed ashore on the Kent coastline in Britain.

Recently, the Internet search engine Google released an electronic map showing the locations of these mass animal deaths. So far, no collective deaths have been reported in China.

No scientific reasons have been offered to explain the widespread occurrence, which some people regard as divine signs of a forthcoming catastrophe.

Experts are now working on these dead animals to see if the incidents are somehow related. There are a variety of potential causes, such as the severe cold weather, difficulties for birds to find food in winter and the noise and air pollution caused by fireworks on New Year's Day. Water pollution was blamed in the unnatural death of large amounts of marine life. Despite such speculation, nothing conclusive has yet been determined.

(Compiled by Shanghai Daily)The International Fund for Animal Welfare Beijing Raptor Rescue Center successfully released an eagle owl, which has Grade Two Protection under Chinese Law, at the Songshan National Nature Reserve in Yanqing County, Beijing

IFAW BRRC received the bird in December 2009. According to rescuer surnamed Zhang, he found an unscrupulous trader selling the owl near Qinling in Sichuan Province. He purchased it and then drove it to the IFAW BRRC. "When I saw this eagle owl, it was tied up with wire and its two wings were covered in blood. The trader sold it as a wild game bird but it is a nationally protected animal. I drove from Sichuan to Beijing in the hope that it could be saved," Zhang said.

IFAW BRRC's bird rehabilitator found that the skin and muscle of the bird's upper wing had been broken, but fortunately there was no fracture. Rehabilitator Zhang Shuai said: "After a year of rehabilitation it finally regained the ability to fly and survive the wild."

More than 60 percent of the injured birds of prey received by IFAW BRRC are the victims of illegal capture, trafficking and raising.The IFAW BRRC also successfully released two upland buzzards, a nationally protected species, at the Ming Tombs in Changping District, Beijing.

The organization received one of the buzzards at Tun village in Beijing's Huairou District in December. According to rescuer surnamed Cao, the buzzard had already killed a chicken, but was too weak to fly off with it and fell to the ground. "We often read newspapers and know that this is a national protected animal. I tried to release it, but it couldn't fly, so I contacted IFAW BRRC," Cao said.

A rehabilitator found that the bird had no injury or disease but was in very poor condition and dehydrated. After two weeks of rehabilitation and evaluation, the bird regained its health and could be released into the wild.

The other upland buzzard released on the same day was captured when it was attempting to catch a farmer's ducks. This bird was also very weak. More than 10 percent of the raptors received by the IFAW BRRC are emaciated.


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