They spread their wings and took flight, their silhouettes contrasting against the Karachi’s hazy sky. It was only a moment ago that they were set free from cages which had been their abode for the past few days. Leaving the crammed space of those cages behind, they flapped their wings and the resultant sound produced by their collective fluttering was akin to crying eureka. This celebration of their freedom resounded through the air. Little did they know their freedom was short-lived.

The flock of domestic sparrows, commonly dubbed Gharelo Chirya in Pakistan, was among many in the city, which are liberated temporarily until they again fall prey to bird catchers’ bait and are confined in small cages carried around by bird sellers.

Bird sellers carrying small cages crammed with domestic sparrows is a common sight in Pakistan. They are approached by people who pay them a certain amount to set a flock of these caged birds free, as an act of benevolence or to ward off evil.

In Pakistan millions of birds are set free in the name of charity every year. However, these virtuous acts do little to salvage these helpless little creatures from the clutches of bird hunters and catchers, who again capture them down and use them as a business commodity.

This atrocious business of bird catching and keeping them in abject conditions has peaked in and around Karachi and interior of Sindh. The bird hunting mafia, which is highly active in different districts of Sindh, set up traps using insects and grains as a bait to lure sparrows. Those who fall prey to the bait are caged and transported to markets. Vendors at these markets in turn sell the sparrows off to individuals who carry them around in small cages throughout the city, in search of people seeking rewards in return for paying to set a group of these birds free.

The ones set free are again caught by hunters and sold to vendors in various markets, and hence, the tiny sparrows find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle where freedom is only transient.

Unlike other wildlife creatures, sparrows, which are found in abundance in Pakistan, are not traditionally home-bred in cities and villages. Having a wheat-coloured petite body, the domestic sparrow has a wide tail and a strong, pointed beak. It mostly dwells in or around human settlements.

Their presence in areas populated by humans makes them an easy prey and as a result they bear the torture of confinement and starvation, at the hands of bird catchers.

It is estimated that about 35 per cent of the captured sparrows die while being transported to markets, mainly due to starvation, dehydration and extreme temperature.

In order to curb this cruel practice, the Wildlife Department had carried out raids in different areas of Karachi, in the current year. As many as 7,000 sparrows were seized in a crackdown in Upper Sindh, by the authorities, and another 600 were recovered from two shops of Empress Market, during a raid a few weeks ago. These birds were later set free in Malir district.

According to Wildlife Inspector Ejaz Noondhani, the excessive hunting is endangering the wild creature and numerous cases of bird hunting have been reported in Dadu particularly.

Citing the rise in the practice of bird hunting, Sindh Wildlife Department had imposed a ban on the hunting of sparrow earlier this year.

According to Wildlife Inspector Abdul Qayyum Channa, the Wildlife Department had issued permits which allowed the hunters to catch 15 to 20 sparrows a day. However, all of these permits were cancelled in January this year, he said, adding that relaxation in laws had encouraged the practice of bird hunting and sparrows could be safeguarded against extinction if strict penalties are brought in place for bird hunters.