Birds and agriculture often don’t get along, as any fruit or grain farmer will readily tell you. Birds just trying to make a living peck away at produce, causing $150 million in crop damage annually (as estimated by the USDA).
That’s bad enough. But when birds are hitting up your crops for recreational reasons, there’s no end to the damage. Just ask the (legal and licensed) opium farmers in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan areas of India, whose crops are ravaged up to 40 times a day by flocks of drug-addicted parakeets.
The birds lick up dripping opium sap, rip seed pods apart and even abscond with whole pods, reducing crop yield by as much as 10 per cent.
So far, all efforts to control the damage have failed. The usually noisy birds have even learned to keep silent until escaping with a purloined pod, and are so intent on getting their fix that scare tactics such as drums and firecrackers don’t deter them.
While amusing at first glance, this avian thievery is a significant problem for the farmers and for the birds.
The legal opium harvest is monitored by the Indian government and farmers are punished for lower-than-expected output. but there’s still no government recognition or aid for the parrot problem, which first cropped up in 2015.
Exhausted farmers and their families are having to stand guard from dawn till dark during March and April to defend their crops from the birds (and monkeys, rabbits and antelopes) that have learned to enjoy the pleasures of the poppy.
The birds are suffering too as their short-term pleasure leads to long-term pain. While stoned, the parakeets exhibit disoriented flight, crashing into (and out of) trees and becoming easy targets for predators.
After the opium harvest comes a week or so of nasty withdrawal symptoms, which likely kills at least some of the birds. But just like Spring, the survivors are back again next year for another fix.
Legally-grown opium is used to produce medical pain relievers including codeine, morphine and oxycodone.