Pakistanis feed predatory birds despite crackdown on practice

By Thomson Reuters Mar 11, 2024 | 3:18 AM

By Mubasher Bukhari and Nida Mehboob

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Shabnam, a young woman in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, sells small packets of scrap meat to passersby to feed predatory birds, despite a recent crackdown on the practice which many people do as an offering to ward off adversity.

The tradition of tossing offerings off a bridge – which are swooped up by hawks and kites – has long provided a source of livelihood for hundreds of roadside vendors in bustling Pakistani cities such as Lahore and Karachi.

The practice has long been banned but continues in Lahore and other parts of the country of 240 million.

Shabnam, who only gave her first name, told Reuters she has been selling the packets for a year to support her younger siblings. She sells each packet for 20 Pakistani rupees ($0.07), and makes around 500 rupees a day. She keeps 40% and gives the rest to a man who has hired her as a vendor.

Dil Muhammad says, for 10 years, he has employed at least six girls as vendors along a small section of a bridge in Lahore. He says he buys the meat, which consists of waste scraps, from local markets and distributes it amongst his hires.

Amir, a rickshaw driver, says he regularly buys packets to “keep his life safe” as he is on the road all day and fears getting into accidents in Lahore’s heavy traffic. He tosses the meat off the bridge and watches birds swoop down to catch it before it hits the water below.

Wildlife officials say the constant feeding of predatory birds has made them more aggressive towards humans and their increasing number has also adversely affected the population of other bird species on whom they prey.

“This consistent food source not only sustains existing populations but also attracts more birds to the area,” Muhammad Jamshed Iqbal, a senior manager at WWF Pakistan, told Reuters.

“Additionally, the disposal of meat scraps leads to health hazards for both, birds and humans, as it attracts pests and can spread disease.”

The increase in the number of kites due to readily available food is also a hindrance to airport operations.

“Kites have been posing a danger to the taking off or landing of flights around Lahore Airport,” Saifullah Khan, a spokesperson of the civil aviation authority, told Reuters.

He added that the aviation authority in collaboration with the district administration has carried out multiple operations against those who feed birds on the rooftops of their homes around the airport.

Khan said throwing meat and grain for bird feeding around the airport is strictly prohibited and that the aviation authority is planning to install a Birds Repellent System at all major airports shortly to ensure the safety of aircraft.

Despite these restrictions, the belief in feeding birds as a form of charity remains strong in the country.

“If you give sadaqa (charitable offerings), Allah will remove all bad luck and evil from your path,” says businessman Ghulam Murtaza as he tossed plates full of meat from a bridge in Karachi.

“This is our faith, a part of our religious beliefs. We have been following this ritual from the beginning.”

(Reporting by Nida Mehboob and Mubasher Bukhari; Writing by Ariba Shahid)