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Monday, September 17

Mobile phone towers ringing the death knell for squirrels and sparrows in India?

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Sparrows were once abundant in the city spaces and rural markets in India. But rising concrete jungles, increasing pollution and now, mobile phone towers are causing them to disappear from the Indian landscape, says a group of conservationists in the country. Meanwhile, reports from other parts of the country shows that squirrels also could be victims of increasing mobile phone tower presence and resulting impact of high Electro-Magnetic Radiation.

House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
According to PTI, ornithologist Amarjit Gupta has pointed out that the number of sparrows across the country has been falling down drastically over a period of time, raising serious concern. According to him, a recent study has shown that sparrows were present only in localities which are located at a particular distance from the towers. 

MoEF advisory on mobile phone towers
The issue has attracted the attention of Indian authorities in India earlier itself, which forced Ministry of Environment and Forests to constitute an Expert Group to study the possible impacts of communication towers on wildlife, including birds and bees in 2011.

With a wide and deep review of the existing research literature on the issue, the committee found that exposure to Electro Magnetic Radiation at high levels adversely affects living organisms. However, the review was not able to establish a cause – effect relation between mobile phone tower presence and any population decline among sparrows due to lack of reliable data. Later,MoEF has issued an advisory saying that new cell phone towers should not be installed within one kilo meter radius of existing ones.

You too, Squirrels?
However, the skepticism about mobile phone towers and its impact on living beings still lingers. Villagers and farmers in the Northern parts of the Indian state of Kerala also report on the sudden disappearance of squirrels from the farms and nearby places.

 Indian palm squirrel, Funambulus palmarum,  three-striped palm squirrel,squirrels and mobile phone towers
 Indian palm squirrel (Funambulus palmarum)
Image: Indian Biodiversity Talks
According to George K., a Cocoa farmer in Kannur district, Cocoa cultivators used to face serious annoyance from squirrels during the fruit ripening season. “Cocoa cultivators used to apply pesticides like Furadan, as poison to ward off the issue. But now, they are nowhere to see”.

According to him, squirrels are almost absent in these areas now that the ripened Cocoa fruits remain intact, without the need to poisoning.  “Though poisoning could have killed many squirrels in the past, we doubt that the increasing presence of mobile phone towers is a reason which has caused the sudden disappearance of the creatures”, says he.

Though many conservationists suspect the chances of any particular pesticide used in the farms as a possible cause for the disappearance, they are not ready to rule out the role played by increasing mobile phone tower density in these areas.

In these far flung villages with difficult hilly terrain, towers are installed comparatively closer to fill the coverage-less areas caused by steep valleys and occasional peaks.

Though more scientific proof is needed to confirm the doubts, the alarm is clear. Something in the environment is wiping sparrows and squirrels away.


  1. I our area ( palakkad ) squirrels are in plenty.

  2. Hi Prashanth,

    Glad to hear that squirrels are plenty in your area. Yes, as we have mentioned in the story, scientific evidence is still to emerge to show if an actual decline is happening with the squirrels and sparrows and whether the mobile phone towers are a cause for that.


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