Although the monsoon rains have caused unprecedented economic losses and infrastructural damage in the country this year, it is a great omen for the migratory birds that travel to Pakistan in the winter season, as widespread rains in Sindh and Balochistan have helped improve freshwater bodies.
This was stated by WWF-Pakistan experts on World Migratory Birds Day. From plastic pollution to habitat loss and the impacts of climate change, migratory birds are increasingly under threat from human activity, they said, adding that migrating birds face many dangers along the way; however, they bring multiple benefits to humans such as seed dispersal, pollination and pest control.
The WWF-Pakistan believes that the rapid fall in the population of migratory birds in the country is most likely one of the factors causing a rise in locust swarms, which destroyed crops in many areas in Sindh and Punjab. These birds not only help control the populations of insects and some fish species but improve habitat for other wildlife.
Experts requested that the federal government should resume the Annual Winter Fowl Survey, which was conducted every year in the country to ascertain the number of migratory birds and their migration patterns.
According to the WWF-Pakistan, migratory birds are being killed, hunted and poached despite local and international restrictions on their hunting. The organisation also stressed the need to create awareness about the bird fauna of Pakistan and called for necessary measures to protect migratory species declining in country.
This year’s theme ‘Birds connect our world’ indicates that birds bring nature and people together; therefore, significant efforts should be made to revive dwindling populations.
Dr Tahir Rasheed, director wildlife, WWF-Pakistan, pointed out that nature conservation, ecosystem services and well-being of human beings are linked with the protection of migratory birds. “It is our joint responsibility to protect wild species, including birds, which play a crucial role on Earth.” He requested that the Ministry of Climate Change support the Annual Winter Fowl Survey. “This is an essential requirement to understand the changes in the migration pattern,” he added.
Pakistan lies at a crossroads for bird migration, with its wetlands attracting high numbers annually in the winter season. These birds arrive through the international migration route known as the Indus Flyway, from Siberia and over the Karakorum, Hindu Kush, and Suleiman Ranges along the Indus River down to the delta.
They include a wide variety of ducks and waders, houbara bustards, cranes, teals, pintail, mallard, geese, spoon bills, raptors and passerines such as warblers, pipits and buntings. Some species, including the common and Demoiselle cranes, snipe and pelican, enter via the Kurram Agency of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Commenting on the day, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, WWF-Pakistan’s technical adviser, pointed out that climate change was also affecting the bird migration. “Wintering birds started arriving in October every year; however, for the past few years, birds arrive in November. It seems that the migration trends of birds are changing and the duration of these birds staying in Pakistan has decreased substantially.”
Dr Khan stressed the need for the protection of cranes in Lasbela and Zhob, which seem to be the last haven for these majestic birds. He was of the view that these cranes fly through the route of Pakistan and arrive in India where people protect and treat them as sacred birds.
Migratory birds face a number of problems in Pakistan, which include habitat loss and degradation, pollution, illegal trade, and ruthless hunting.
Since all migratory species are hunted in Pakistan and ducks are cruelly and mercilessly killed every year, the population of some duck species, including white-eyed pochard, marbled teal, white eyed pochard and garganey, has drastically decreased.
Cranes, because of their size and beauty, unique calls, and complex behavior, are ruthlessly hunted and trapped during their migration to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
In Balochistan, they are hunted in Zhob and Lasbela (Sonmiani and Saranda Lake areas) and hundreds are trapped and poached, while some are transported in appalling conditions to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where they are kept as pets. Hundreds die during trapping and transportation.
The WWF-Pakistan stressed the need for the wildlife departments of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to curb this illegal trade and ruthless hunting. The organisation is working with communities in the Lasbela district to control their trade.
It is believed that there is interdependence of people and nature, and more specifically people and migratory birds. Anthropogenic activities can have negative impacts on bird migration, especially the disappearance of wetlands and degradation of bird habitats in Pakistan. The WWF-Pakistan appealed to the public to help revive the country’s natural landscape and protect the bird species.
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