Poppy farmers in India are dealing with opium-addicted parrots. The birds are destroying their crops and terrorizing workers trying to cultivate the plants.
Farmers in the region are already dealing with poor crops due to the lack of proper rainfall and the addicted birds are severely exasperating the situation. The small green parakeets can be seen raiding the fields dozens of times a day.
Farmers in the Neemuch District are so desperate to save their crops that they keep watch over the fields 24 hours a day. They are beating drums and using loudspeakers, and firecrackers in attempts to keep the birds out of the poppy fields. So far those attempts have failed.
Poppy farmers say that these types of parakeets usually make a lot of noise when they swoop into a field, but that these birds appear to not only be addicted but intelligent as well. When the birds swoop into the fields they are silent. If farmers aren’t paying attention they completely miss the ninja-like raids. The birds, however, do chirp loudly as they take to the sky with their beaks filled with pods.
Some of the parrots have been filmed as they tear into unripe poppy pods while other birds use their beaks and claws to tear off the plant at its stalk and fly into trees carrying the entire unopened pod with them. At times the birds will wait for farmers to slit open the opium poppy pods in order to ripen them before they swoop in and claim their prize.
Farmers are so desperate that they have reached out to local authorities for help, but so far their pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears. The farmers realize that their season has almost been completely destroyed and there is no way for them to be compensated for their losses.
One poppy flower can produce between 20 to 25 grams of opium, but the parrots are feeding up to 40 times a day stripping the pods completely from the plants.
The farmers are growing the Papaver somniferum species of poppy, which is the source for the narcotic drug opium. The opium contains very powerful medicinal alkaloids like morphine. The drug has been used since ancient times as both a medicinal drug and a recreational one. The plants’ seeds are edible, as the parrots have discovered. During ancient times in Egypt, doctors would instruct patients to eat the seeds to relieve their pain.
Poppy purveyors say that this phenomenon began in 2015, but this year it has spread to other regions for the first time. The situation has become so bad that farmers are receiving warnings from the government, which controls the opium farming industry, about the greatly reduced yields. One farmer told authorities that he believes the parrots have already stolen more than ten percent of his crop.
Back in 2017, the government issued warnings about the drug-addicted birds after reports of opium, theft were reported across the region. Poppy farmers are obligated to hand over pre-agreed quantities of their product to the state.
The parrots raid the poppy fields between March and April when the seeds are cut by farmers. Cutting exposes the latex which contains the morphine. The morphine is often processed chemically to produce heroin.
Parrots are not the only animal that likes to raid poppy fields of their pods. The Nilgai, Asia’s largest antelope also has a taste for it. Because of their size, the Niggai causes a lot of damage by tramping down the plants while they feed.
The parrot’s consumption of the opium isn’t just harming the poppy farmer’s livelihood, it is dangerous and often deadly to the birds as well. Opium has the same effect on birds as caffeine does to humans. After the birds score some opium they fly high into a tree settling on its branches where they will gorge on the seeds then fall into a deep sleep for hours. Some of the birds fall from the high branches to their deaths.
The drugged out birds also become easy targets for predators like eagles, hawks, owls, and snakes. Farmers state that once the pods are all cut the birds are then deprived of their addictions. Once the surviving birds have no opium to feed on they lose their appetites, begin to act oddly, lose the will to live and eventually die. As soon as these birds get their first taste of opium they become addicted and that guarantees their deaths.
The regulated opium industry for medicinal purposes takes place in several India regions. Growers must have special licenses. india is the largest producer of legal opium in the world.