The stage was set, the occasion surely worth it, and everyone was in a festive mood.
Everyone was ready to celebrate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's 73rd birthday. The mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Sayeed Khokon, was preparing to inaugurate the event where 73 birds were to be released.
The event proceeded as planned on Sunday. But the birds of choice for the ceremony happened to be Budgerigars, a bird which originates from Australia, and is a popular species among bird enthusiasts as pets.
Popularly known as "Budgies," the small birds are reared in cages.
Mayor Sayeed Khokon's act enraged and agitated a lot of bird enthusiasts and environmentalists.
People are already flooding social media in criticism of this act. One of the Facebook users, Raqibul Haq Emil, wrote, "I think both the mayors should be careful about the people they are surrounded by. It is weird and immoral to release birds that are reared in cages into a hostile environment."
Emil is also the founder of animal rights group People for Animal Welfare Foundation.
These birds cannot hunt. They will die of starvation
"These birds cannot hunt. They will die of starvation," posted user Shamim Iqbal.
Avian experts and environmentalists also agreed with the social media commenters. "I think all the birds are dead by now. These are pet birds who cannot survive outside a caged environment. Since it rained heavily yesterday, chances of the birds surviving the weather, if not hunted by crows, are very slim," said Muntasir Akash, lecturer of the zoology department at University of Dhaka.
Nevertheless, the bird releasing ceremony is an ancient one. In ancient Greece and Rome, white doves represented honesty, loyalty and devotion, which is why they were given as gifts.
In many cultures, doves were traditionally released at funerals to symbolise the homeward flight of the deceased person's spirit.
However, in recent times, bird lovers, animal rights activists and environmentalists have started protesting this tradition. As these birds often get hurt, lost or killed, the tradition is deemed cruel by many.
Back in 2014, a bird release mishap by the Pope made the headlines. Pope Francis released two birds that would not fly out of the window of the papal apartment required several attempts to get the birds to fly out over a crowd of spectators. Eventually, the two birds were attacked by a seagull and crow.
Pope Benedict XVI also faced criticism for a similar ceremony. The Pope released doves during a Holocaust remembrance event, which were attacked by a seagull – with one dove being singled out and injured.
If this tradition of releasing birds is to be continued, they should be chosen carefully.
Releasing alien wild birds can create a devastating effect on the native ecology; and for cage-reared birds, it is a death sentence. "Releasing exotic wild birds from a different ecosystem could also be a fatal blow to the indigenous wild bird population. Such practices have made way for the establishment of many alien populations, as we see for Common Starling native to Eurasia now spread throughout Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, even Polynesia," explained Akash.
Though the mayor was not picking up the phone, when asked about the source of the budgerigar of the Sunday event, Dhaka South officials provided vague responses.
One of the officials from purchase and store department said they did not buy the birds. They could not provide any information about the prices of the birds either.
"The mayor could have asked anyone to provide him with 73 birds," said one official requesting anonymity.
However, this casual approach of selecting birds for the occasion surprised the concerned circle.
"If they did not have any idea about birds, then they should have asked an expert. Even an amateur bird watcher could have informed them that they have chosen the wrong species of bird," said Shahjahan Sarder, president of the Nature Conservation Committee.