Kalaburagi: For those of you bowled by Dr. Pakshirajan portrayed by Akshay Kumar in the recent flick '2.0', wait till you meet Kalaburgi’s real life 'birdman' Dr. Vishwanath Hegga. The 39-year-old veterinarian surgeon lives with his parents, wife, two children, seven dogs and a collection of 500 birds!
But don't panic. Unlike Dr Pakshirajan, Hegga is soft-spoken although he vehemently discourages the overuse of mobile phones. He still uses a 2G phone and feels that human beings tend to exploit technology as they become more convenient, without considering its effects on living creatures. According to the good doctor, people are overusing their phones and getting addicted to these convenient hand-held devices. "I use the mobile only from a particular portion of my house and do not carry it along with me,” he says.
His aversion to mobile phones perhaps stems from his love for animals, especially birds. Dr Hegga recollects that his love for birds and nature sparked in his childhood when he preferred to spend more time outdoors with wildlife over routine games. Eventually, his love for animals made him pursue a bachelor's degree in veterinary medicine and later, a Masters in Veterinary Science (Surgery) at Bidar Veterinary College.
In 1998, Hegga decided to start keeping birds as pets. “I hail from an agrarian family and have always been surrounded by animals and birds. So my fascination with them was natural. Initially, I started my collection with 'love-birds' that I imported from New Zealand. Later, I added Finches, Sparrows and finally over 20 varieties of parrots. Over the last 20 years, I have raised a collection of over 500 birds at my 25-cent property, where I feed and treat them. I have also built a colony of cages for breeding," he says.
But ever since the import of birds was banned, Dr Hegga has been purchasing them from breeders in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Each bird is quarantined for 15 days, observed and then treated before it is allowed to mix with the other birds, just to keep diseases at bay.
Dr. Hegga’s collection of parrots encompasses Cockatiel, African Grey Plummet, Turquoise Parrot, Kakariki parrot, Nandya Conure, Sun Conure, Pineapple Conure and Blue Cheek Conure among many others. Although, he claims that his prized parrot is a Bluegold Macaw, which costs Rs 1.5 lakh and a Congo parrot named ‘Appu’ that responds to three languages (English, Hindi, Kannada).
The main challenge of rearing birds, according to Dr. Hegga, is ensuring that they remain healthy. “In case a bird falls sick, 90 percent of the time it fails to survive. Also, in India, veterinarians are not trained to treat birds. Those who treat birds are called avian-veterinarians, and in India, there aren't many who are qualified. There are also no courses to train doctors in avian medicine. Hence, in case a bird is sick, I usually contact avian veterinarians in foreign countries for medicines. What’s more difficult is getting a hold of the medicines they prescribe, as they are usually not available in India,” he explains.
Dr. Hegga dedicates 5 hours of his day caring for his birds. "We feed them germinated seeds, millets, oilseeds as well as bird feed formula for the younger birds. The cost in bird food alone is over Rs 5,000 a month," he says.
He now has plans to move his birds to a 2-acre property he purchased in Aland.
In 2015, the then Kalburgi Zilla Panchayat CEO and Hyderabad Karnataka Development Board Regional Commissioner had initiated plans to house exotic parrots, reptiles, rodents and butterflies at the Rajeev Gandhi Park and keep them open for public viewing. "Though the concerned departments initiated the work process, the progress has been stalled since their transfer,” he says.
Dr. Hegga plans to convert the 2-acre property into an aviary and make it a free-flying zone for birds. The doctor estimates that it will take at least five years for the aviary to be completed as the documentation of the land is in process. He plans to start the work as soon as the paperwork and legalities are completed.
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