Locusts unlikely to hit Mumbai, say experts

Updated: May 29, 2020, 07:22 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Following viral video, experts and officials say there is no evidence of the insect movement towards the city; even if some are sighted, they could be insects lost from the swarm

A locust nest on a mango tree in Bhandara district
A locust nest on a mango tree in Bhandara district

The swarms of locusts entering Maharashtra have played on the minds of Mumbaikars, as many of them frantically called journalists and friends on Thursday afternoon, seeking to know if the insects had attacked their localities. A resident of Matunga had sent out a message to friends stating, "Locusts have reached Mumbai, entered houses in Goregaon and Malad."

The resident also attached a 20 seconds video to show a desert locust captured inside a flat, and sealed in a plastic bag.

B N Kumar, a mangrove activist and resident of Koparkhairane, Navi Mumbai contacted this journalist, inquiring if there was a locust attack in Mumbai, as social media was getting flooded with messages. Kumar said, "My daughter was asking and I told her, it could be a rumour."

This journalist also received a video, apparently taken from a high-rise along the Eastern Express Highway (as claimed in the WhatsApp forward), that showed hundreds of swarming insects suspected to be locusts.

'Who captured the video?'

With the intention of getting the facts, mid-day contacted P K Lahale, Superintendent Agriculture Officer (Konkan Division), and shared the video and pictures for confirmation. He said, "We have never heard of locusts coming to Mumbai before, however, to confirm the authenticity of the pictures/video, Vikas Patil, our Joint Director Agriculture (Konkan) Division, along with Ankush Mane, Superintendent Agriculture Officer, Thane district visited the location."

Vikas Patil (left) , Ankush Mane (extreme right) with the residents of a high-rise along the Eastern Express HIghway
Vikas Patil (left) , Ankush Mane (extreme right) with the residents of a high-rise along the Eastern Express HIghway

Mane, Superintendent Agriculture Officer, Thane district said, "We spoke to the security guards and some residents in a high-rise residential complex at the given address. Though residents admitted to having received the videos on social media, they could not come across any eyewitnesses or zero in on any resident from the building who said he/she captured the video."

"We have checked the photographs and video, and the insects are locusts. However, we have not been able to confirm the source of the video that was claimed to have been taken from the said high-rise by the EEH. Moreover none of the residents from the building, whom we had approached, were witness to the same," explained Patil, Joint Director Agriculture (Konkan) division.

Patil further added, "We had also checked the geographical movement of locusts from Gujarat via Palghar area, but we were informed that there was no such movement in the area. However, when I contacted Dr Vinayak Jalgaonkar, a senior entomologist, he said the locusts in the video might have been lost from a larger swarming group, and might have been following the wind direction. Also the video has captured them at a height, which clearly indicates that they were not going to settle anywhere, but were simply flying. Therefore there was no large swarming or geographical indication that could have helped us trace the origin and also the direction where they flew."

'Won't settle in Mumbai'

Dr Vinayak Jalgaonkar, senior entomologist, Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Karjat, said, "I can say the video and pictures are of locusts, and they might have lost their way from a larger swarming group and might have just passed by. The video also shows mangroves below, and the fact is that locusts cannot settle on mangroves."

 A locust nest on a mango tree in Bhandara district
A locust nest on a mango tree in Bhandara district

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Insecticide Department head Rajan Naringrekar, speaking to mid-day said, "Soon after we learnt about the pictures and video being circulated across social media of locusts entering Mumbai, our ward officials from various areas viz Juhu, Goregaon, Aarey, Ghatkopar and Vikhroli inspected the locations and found that there was no trail of locusts in the said areas." Moreover, Naringrekar added, "We are at present experiencing pre-monsoon South-West winds, and locusts cannot fly against the wind direction. Also, they are following a pattern, which was seen in select places of Amravati, Nagpur and Bhandara. Also, with no food around, locusts will never settle in a city like Mumbai, which has more structures than farms. Besides, we have not even got an alert from any agencies."

Locusts headed to Madhya Pradesh

Hindurao Chavan, District Superintendent Agricultural Officer, Bhandara, said, "On Wednesday, a little after 6 pm, we found a swarm of locusts of nearly two km periphery (each km has around 8 crore locusts), around Timani village, Tunsa taluka, around 50 km from Bhandara."

"The locusts were seen sitting on teak, mango, lemon trees etc and the district administration had arranged for two fire brigades and tower lights to tackle them. The spraying of insecticides was started at 10 pm and continued till 6.30 am on Thursday. We found nearly 60 to70 percent of the locusts were dead," said Chavan. He also added, "Initially we were anticipating they would go to Gondia and the government machinery there was on high alert. The swarms crossed Bavanthadi river and went in Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh. Our staff in the border area are alert and vigilant to see if the locusts reenter our state."

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