Thanks and appreciation to Mithoo (Instagram @mithoo_indianringneck) for alerting us to this!
Kite fighting is an ancient sport, long practiced in cultures across the globe, from India, Japan, Chile, Afghanistan, Nepal to Brazil. Kite string typically is coated with a mix of glue and powdered glass, then used in kite “dogfights” in which the winner successfully cuts the other kite’s string. This string is variously known as manja, cerol, or hilo curado among other terms.
But in regions where kite fighting is popular, the string has proven lethal beyond the kite-fighting environment. The photo of a parrot suspended between branches, snared around the throat and slowly strangled by sharp-sharded string , reproduced in this India Today article, was shared by Twitter user @biditabag. The tweet went viral, tearing at heartstrings worldwide.
Imagine an aerial gill net coated with powdered glass!
Fighting-kite competitions — including Ahmedabad’s International Kite Festival — are part of Makar Sankranti (better known in the West as Kumbh Mela), a winter solstice celebration thousands of years old. This year’s celebrations concluded January 15. Unfortunately, at least one gorgeous parrot won’t be there to enjoy next year’s.
These contests are also popular on August 15, India’s Independence Day, and two years ago a Delhi animal hospital was inundated with 500+ injured birds due to manja. This year’s Makar Sankranti toll included 70+ birds admitted for treatment in Mumbai alone.
Manja string injuries are hardly limited to birds, alas. That same Independence Day two toddlers and a 22-year-old lost their lives when kite string slashed their throats. In February and October of 2018, a similar fate befell two women in Pune. In Pakistan last year, two died with cut throats within a week in March (one victim a mere child), another in September. All were caught while traveling on scooters or with their heads outside the protection of their cars. And just three days ago, a Mumbai engineer crashed his motorcycle and died trying to avoid the dreaded string.
The guilt lies not with specific cultures or governments, for both India and Pakistan have banned, except when used in tightly controlled, sanctioned contests. The similar history of injuries and deaths due to illegal fireworks use in the United States bears witness to the real culprits: thoughtlessness and carelessness. No society is entirely free of this kind of behavior.
But it’s not right that our avian companions should also suffer because of our human shortcomings. We as a community would do well to promote manja bans where none exist, and advocate for rigorous enforcement in location that have already banned manja.