If the birdlife on earth didn’t have enough to worry about, like dwindling habitats, air pollution and the hostile ecosystem of cities, they now have the added perplexity of going gay. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Florida and Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka found that relatively low doses of methylmercury in the diet of male ibises resulted in their pairing up with each other, snubbing the females, to the extent of building nests together (in other words, moving in together).
Methylmercury has been seeping into groundwater from industries for ages now. Though the study took place in Florida, the implications apply to India as well. “It is possible that industries that work with mercury, like the pharmaceutical industry, may be adding some amount of mercury to the water they are discharging their effluents in,” says Prashant Rajankar of Toxic Links.
The researchers, however, say that this study has no implications for humans. “There have been numerous studies of humans and the effects of mercury, and sexual orientation has not been found to be affected,” assures Peter Frederick of the University of Florida, one of the researchers on the study. Nilimi Jayasena of Peradeniya University concurs: “The pathways by which bird sexual behaviour and preference are affected by exposure are not known with certainty—an extension to humans would be irresponsible and misleading.”
Alright, so humans may not be affected, but the question most bird lovers would be asking is: can this effect be reversed, can gay birds become straight again? The answer: “We do not know! Unfortunately, our study ran out of funding before we could do the necessary experiments to determine this,” says Frederick.▪