Let the birds sing, let the birds fly

* Habitat fragmentation, pollution and ruthless hunting are major threats to migratory birds

Let the birds sing,  let the birds  fly

KARACHI: Nations around the globe will be celebrating World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) today on May 10th, to create awareness about bird life. Meanwhile in Pakistan, shrinking water bodies, habitat loss, environmental degradation, water pollution, illegal trade and ruthless hunting are said to be the biggest challenges for provincial governments - especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to protect and conserve migratory birds.

World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) was initiated in 2006 and is an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. This year's theme is "Their Future is our Future - A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People", which highlights the need for conservation and the protection of diverse bird fauna.

Pakistan lies at a crossroads for bird migration with its wetlands, attracting high numbers of birds 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 and 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 includingcommon and Demoiselle cranes, snipe and pelican, enter via the Kurram Agency of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.

"The habitat loss, shrinking water bodies, pollution and illegal hunting can be said to be the biggest challenges to protect these migratory birds," stated Saeed AkhtarBaloch, provincial conservator, Sindh Wildlife Department.

Talking to the Daily Times, Baloch revealed that theSindh Wildlife Department conducts an annual survey of the migratory birds on a regular basis and the numbers of these birds are on the decline every year.

Migratory birds face a number of problems in Pakistan.

Almost all migratory species are hunted in Pakistan and ducks are cruelly and mercilessly killed every year. The populations of some duck species, including white-eyed pochard, marbled teal, white eyed pochard and garganey, have drastically decreased.

Cranes, because of their size and beauty, unique calls, and complex behavior are ruthlessly hunted and trapped during their migration in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In Balochistan they are hunted in Zhob and Lasbela (Sonmiani and Saranda Lake area) and hundreds are trapped and poached.

They are transported in inhumane conditions to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where they are kept as pets. Hundreds die during trapping and transportation. WWF-Pakistan stressed the need for the Wildlife Departments of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to curb this illegal trade and hunting. WWF-Pakistan is working with communities in 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 a negative impact on bird migration, especially the disappearance of wetlands and degradation of bird habitats.

On the occasion of World Migratory Bird Day, WWF-Pakistan stressed the need to create awareness about the bird fauna of Pakistan and called measures to be taken to protect migratory species which are declining in the country.

Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes WWF-Pakistan, pointed out that all stakeholders including government agencies, NGOs, academia and above all students should act jointly to protect migratory birds, conserve wetlands and help spread awareness about the country's natural assets. 'This is an required to understand the changes in the migration pattern,' he added.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor Marine Fisheries, WWF-Pakistan pointed out that climate change is also affecting bird migration. Wintering birds began arriving in October every year; however, for the past few years the birds have been arriving in November. It seems that the migration trends of birds are changing and the duration these birds' stay in Pakistan has decreased substantially.