Emirates plane kills 36 flamingoes in single bird strike incident in India

Emirates plane kills 36 flamingoes in single bird strike incident in India

At least 36 protected flamingoes have been killed in a single bird strike incident in western India involving an Emirates Boeing 777.

The Dubai-Mumbai flight EK-508 was flying over the outskirts of India’s financial capital with over 300 passengers on board when it collided with the flock shortly before landing.

The Emirates crew reported the bird strike incident upon arrival at Mumbai at 9.18pm local time (3.48pm GMT) on Monday.

The accident occurred in the suburban Ghatkopar area, when the plane was preparing for landing, approximately six kilometres away from the international airport. Some 310 passengers were onboard.

The plane is reported to have suffered some damage in the incident but made a routine landing at Mumbai airport. The aircraft remained grounded there on Tuesday.

After the incident, locals reported that the site was littered with bird carcasses with broken pieces of wings, claws and beaks strewn across a large suburban area.

Officials from the Maharashtra Forest Department recovered the scattered remains of many of the birds and a search has been launched to find out if more flamingos were killed. The toll of 36 dead may yet rise.

“The carcasses have been sent for an autopsy to find the exact cause of their death,” Pawan Sharma, founder of the Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare (RAWW), told the Press Trust of India news agency.

A local activist suggested the birds may have been flying on an unusual trajectory because of disruption to the nearby Thane Creek Wildlife Sanctuary. Environmentalist D Stalin from the NGO Vanshakti told the Hindustan Times newspaper that “the new power lines through the sanctuary area are causing disorientation to the birds”.

“While giving permissions for power lines (earlier, it was not allowed inside sanctuaries) the wildlife board meekly surrendered to the power company. Instead, the Thane Creek Wildlife Sanctuary was bulldozed and towers erected,” he was quoted saying.

Thousands of flamingoes come to Mumbai in winter, but the birds and their habitat are threatened by rampant construction and encroachment of natural spaces in one of the world’s most populated cities.

India has the largest population of lesser flamingoes outside the African continent. Officials count the flamingoes every day for three days from October to May in order to maintain estimates of the country’s population.

Flamingoes are protected in India under the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972. In 2018, the authorities in Mumbai designated almost 1,700 hectares of the shore and creek as a flamingo sanctuary. But there have been concerns over encroachment in the designated area and risks relating to construction nearby.

In a statement to The Independent, an Emirates spokesperson said: “Emirates can confirm that EK508 from Dubai to Mumbai on 20 May was involved in a bird strike incident upon landing.”

“The aircraft landed safely and all passengers and crew disembarked without injury, however sadly a number of flamingos were lost and Emirates is cooperating with the authorities on the matter.”

“The aircraft was also damaged in the incident and, as a result, the return flight EK509 scheduled to depart to Dubai on 20 May was cancelled. All passengers and crew were accommodated overnight and a replacement aircraft is being arranged for all passengers, and is scheduled to depart Mumbai on 21 May at 9pm local time.”

“Emirates apologises for any inconvenience caused. The safety of our passengers and crew is of the utmost importance and will not be compromised.”