GP Insights # 263, 19 February 2020
In the news
The 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species is being held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat during 15-22 February 2020. As part of its proceedings, first-of-its-kind research that assimilated 867 bird species and titled ‘State of India’s Birds 2020’ (SoIB) was released.
Key findings point to a drastic 80 per cent loss in India’s bird diversity over 25 years. Two significant threatened regions include the Western Ghats, which is a biodiversity hotspot and the northeast known for indigenous species.
Issues at large
An informal group of birdwatchers, ornithologists, naturalists and conservationists called Bird Count India recorded observations of 15,500 citizen scientists. They categorized the birds into: ‘High Conservation Concern for India’ that includes 101 species; ‘Moderate Conservation Concern’ which includes 319 species; and ‘low conservation concern’ that has 442 species.
The declining trend of birds reveals that the root cause is more than just urbanization. Prof Sindhu Radhakrishna from the School of Natural Sciences and Engineering, NIAS says climate change as a more substantial reason for the decline in bird species. Many birds like raptors which are at the higher end of the food chain are prone to biomagnification. A classic example is the catastrophic population decline of Indian vultures from the early nineties due to renal failure caused by Diclofenac- an anti-inflammatory drug found in the carcasses of livestock that these scavengers feed on. It highlights the need to monitor the use of toxins, pesticides and other chemicals.
Sustainable development should also be sensitive to birds. A number of them including the Great Indian Bustard are get trapped in the blades of windmills plentifully installed in Rajasthan and Gujarat that is home to these critically endangered birds. Pet trade, hunting and smuggling of exotic birds still remains a major cause for concern. According to Prof Radhakrishna, birds like crows known to acclimatize quickly with urbanization have also significantly decreased. She believes that climate change alters breeding patterns of birds and also increases pathogen infections.
On the brighter side, stabilization of the numbers of house sparrows and reversal of the declining trend in the Indian Peafowl are success stories of conservation efforts. This assessment reveals the urgency for monitoring and implementation of recovery measures. Species-specific causes of decline must be identified and prompt awareness must be raised. A supportive network should be established between the public, citizen scientists and researchers to enable large scale collaborations.