I have this one memory of which I am absolutely fond of. When I was about 8 or 9, I got to fly a kite on a brilliantly sunny, perfectly windy August day, in the middle of a recently threshed field of paddy. Just beautiful scenery all throughout, there I was so full of bliss and giddy as a cat on catnip. That’s the kind of overall feeling which is accompanied whenever I hear the word “kites”. I’m sure most of you have very fond memories of your own when it comes to “kiting” as it combines three things which are irresistible to us, (1) the sensation of flying, (2) the feeling of being in control, and (3) a month of holidays – kite season in Sri Lanka falls in August, just when the school holidays start and during the peak of the South-Eastern monsoon season, which brings sweeping winds into the country.

Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it? I’m sure it is intensified by the restrictions placed due to the current covid situation. 

Well in this seemingly innocent hobby that just sparks joy to the point it could make Marie Kondo high, there is a gruesome side, which you might be knowingly or unknowingly contributing to. The crime (yes, it is a crime in a sense when you consider the collateral damage) is leaving nylon and other synthetic-fiber strings – which are used to fly kites – hanging nearly everywhere to the point it feels like walking through a giant spider web of death. Generally, if we are aware of our surroundings we can avoid getting injured by these renegade strings, but there is news about people getting severely injured, some even losing their lives because a string severed a main artery. Just last month (July 2021), a mother and her year and a half old child paid with their lives because a kite string got entangled in the bike they were traveling which caused a roadside accident. If that is the case for us humans, can you even begin to comprehend the effect these strings have on animals, most noticeably on birds as these discarded strings are found mostly on power lines, trees, and other places of elevation where birds choose to roost. 

Those of you, including me, know how deep these synthetic strings can cut if you mishandle them and if tightly wound around anything, they are nearly impossible to break without the aid of a sharp object. Normally, it takes around approximately 15 pounds of force to break a single strand of nylon string, which means you have to yank the ends with considerable force to break it, and if you are not safe (like wearing gloves), as mentioned previously they could end up seriously injuring you. The same can not be said to the majority of animals that get caught as most of them do not have the required physical structure to exert the minimum amount of force needed to break these strings. The more they struggle, the more the strings end up cutting deep like a torture device. Speaking of torture, this is exactly how a snare operates. When an animal is caught in a snare, the more it struggles to be free, the more the snare cuts into the animal which ends with the animal dying a gory and gruesome death. 

I did some digging to see what kind of synthetic fiber strings are promoted online and most turned out to be Nylon but there were some local online vendors who were promoting Kevlar strings! That is even worse! It is not popular as it is quite expensive when compared to Nylon, but Kevlar based strings are four times as strong as Nylon strings and even more dangerous to be handled inappropriately as it can and will cut you to the bone – if the word Kevlar sounds familiar, it is because Kevlar is used to make bulletproof vests – Now I hope that gives you an idea on how strong these things are! If that’s what entails a human being, imagine what it translates to a lightweight, slender creature like a bird who is caught in a death trap like this. The more it struggles to escape, the more it cuts, which could lead to a horrible death by strangulation, starvation (because it is trapped in one place), or by excessive bleeding (caused by deep lacerations). 

Purple swamphen tangled in kite string at the Diyasaru Park. Video by Anya Ratnayaka.

Our neighbors to the north have a brand of Chinese-made string called “manjha” which is sometimes coated with glass or steel to make it extra durable (Yeah you read that right! A thin lining of glass and steel!). Thankfully the Indian Government banned the product in 2017 but this has not ended activists having to rescue thousands of birds and other animals, who end up strung up like trussed chicken, waiting for a painful and humiliating death. Our stance and justification methods on matters such as these can be expressed from that one lyric from the popular Gypsies song, “Though it happens in India, it doesn’t happen in Sri Lanka / ඉන්දියාවේ එහෙම උනත් ලංකාවේ එහෙම වෙන්නේ නෑ” which is an extremely dangerous mentality to be harboring as the team at Urban Fishing Cat recently rescued a Purple Heron which was suffering for three days, entangled in a mess of strings.

If you are reading this and feeling a little defensive, remember that we are not trying to force you to give up flying kites, we are also not condemning or shaming those who do fly kites, and we are definitely not preaching extreme ideals over a beloved hobby. 

Instead, we are just pleading that you pick up after you are done! If your kite string gets caught up somewhere if you can remove it, remove it – mind you, we do not encourage putting yourself in danger if the string is stuck somewhere unsafe – If it is stuck somewhere inaccessible but you can see it, get help from someone and try your best to get it down. If you aren’t a kite flyer, but you happen to see strings hanging off trees, pull them down and dispose of them accordingly (Put it for recycling). 

By doing simple things such as these, an innocent life will be spared to soar free or roam unharmed for at least another day and you will be left with a huge sense of fulfillment as you made the effort to do the right thing. That’s what matters at the end, doesn’t it, doing the right thing?