Around 17,000 migratory birds have died so far around Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan reportedly due to botulism, a fatal illness that affects the nerves, PTI reported, citing a forest official. Jaipur, Nagaur and Ajmer districts of the state reported the deaths.

Avian botulism is a neuromuscular illness caused by a toxin that is produced by a bacteria. It has been recognised as a major cause of mortality in wild birds since the 1900s.

Chief Wildlife Warden of the Forest Department Arindam Tomar confirmed the total number of deaths. Jaipur District Collector Jagroop Singh Yadav said the carcasses had been disposed of.

In Jaipur, 8,500 birds have died so far, the collector said. The initial cause of the deaths was said to be avian flu but a report from a laboratory in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, has eliminated it.

The health department in Rajasthan has said that there was no risk of the disease being transferred to humans, but urged people to not venture into the area. “Some sort of toxin is causing deaths of birds as avian botulism is suspected as some reports [are] showing,” Dr KK Sharma, the director of the state health department, told The Times of India on Sunday.

A Bikaner-based research organisation that conducted the post-mortem on two carcasses found that avian botulism could be the cause of the mass deaths. A team from College of Veterinary and Animal Science in Bikaner inspected the lake last week and submitted a report, the Hindustan Times reported on Saturday. The experts concluded that “the most probable diagnosis is avian botulism”.

The deaths were first reported last week when close to 1,500 migratory birds were found dead under mysterious circumstances around Sambhar Lake. Sambhar Lake is India’s largest inland salt lake. It is a recognised wetland of international importance, and hosts thousands of migratory birds during winters. The dead birds included plovers, common coots, black winged stilts, northern shovelers, ruddy shelducks and pied avocets.

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