Nepal ex-king's prized birds 'starving' in royal lodge

By Gopal Sharma KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nearly seven years after Nepal's former king was deposed, hundreds of birds in his private aviary are starving in cages on the grounds of a royal hunting lodge, a conservationist said. Gyanendra, the last king of the Himalayan nation, was forced out of his pagoda-roofed palace in 2008 when the monarchy was abolished and he now lives as a commoner in the capital, Kathmandu. But the ruler left behind several hundred pheasants in huge cages in the forested grounds of his lodge on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The original number of birds was unclear, but only 163 golden and silver pheasants survive. "They used to feed on cashew nuts during the days of the monarch," said Kishore Kumar Mehta, a conservation official at the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park where the lodge is located. "But now they don't even get enough corn and wheat to eat." Mehta said some of the pheasants were given as gifts by foreign leaders to the former monarch, and were displayed in cages outside the fortified lodge as prized status symbols. Well-heeled Nepalis often eat pheasant during feasts. While Gyanendra's palace has been turned into a museum, the government has allowed him to continue using the lodge, although the former monarch has no authority over the pheasants. The government had earlier set aside 1.7 million rupees ($17,000) for food, upkeep and two caretakers for the birds, but that allowance was cut to 615,000 rupees ($6,150) last year. "It is not enough to feed them properly," said Mehta. "The government should either give us enough budgets or let us free the birds from their cages into the forests." (Editing by Tony Tharakan)