Urgent Need for Conservation of Avifauna and Wildlife Species Across the Globe

January 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Conservation is a long term investment for any locality, region or nation for a better and prosperous tomorrow by building on from the experiences of the past and the premium strengths of the present. Through conservation of different endangered avifauna and wildlife species and our environment, we are able to rediscover ourselves and the hidden strengths that we carry inside while trying to make this planet a better place for all of us to share and live behind for our future generations. A recent report (November, 2014) on indiscriminate killing of houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulate Jacquin, 1784) birds in Balochistan province of Pakistan by royal tourists from Saudi Arabia has sent global shockwaves around the world. The species, one of the largest among the bustard members have been designated as vulnerable by the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is in immediate need of conservation across its entire distribution range from North Africa to west Asia. Although the provincial High Court has passed the ruling henceforth banning the practice of bird hunting; but in a country that has so poor record of human rights and economic development and plagued with innumerable problems, it is quite doubtful whether the conservation practices could be implemented effectively. Pakistan’s poor economy and lack of growth is heavily dependent on foreign aids for survival and the economic conditions in remote and rural areas of the Balocistan province is worst in the county in spite of the region being richest in natural resources due to a number of factors such as lack of planning and proper wealth distribution, poor administration, infrastructure, connectivity, industrialization and job opportunities. The economic deprivation of the region makes it even more vulnerable for any successful conservation efforts for the houbara bustards, since the economic situation of the people in the province as well as those settled around protected areas are deplorable. The national government needs to look for sustainable approaches in developing the region and only then can successful conservation of vulnerable species takes shape in the future. For now, the situations look extremely grim both for the people as well as the local, helpless, endangered wildlife species. It seems that in spite of reaching the 21st century we have not been able to establish the stringent avian and wildlife conservation policies across the globe for several reasons.

Recently stringent initiatives adopted by the local governments have been successful in reducing the poaching incidents, which was on sharp rise for the past two years. Deployment of highly trained forest guards with advanced monitoring and surveillance and use of sophisticated arms; along with highly coordinated support extended by army intelligence and ground troops have resulted in the deaths of a number of members of organized international poaching units operating here. However, the death of poachers will only temporarily reduce poaching or disperse them to other less secured forest belts for their sustenance; but will never be able to eradicate them completely, resulting in gain at one region with severe loss introduced in another. The death of a poacher means that a poor and helpless family depending on that poaching income will be further pushed backwards; and will possibly force another member from the same family to opt for poaching as an illegal profession, since they do not have any viable economic alternative. This is the hidden factor that tells us why the increasing number of death of poachers has only increased poaching in recent years.

The dangers of illegal trade on different avifauna species and other wildlife species have been on rise across the globe, particularly impacting biodiversity rich developing and under developed nations. However, it is important to identify the root causes of the phenomenon rather than simply voicing against it. Unless we understand that why illegal wildlife trade are existing in the first place, no concrete steps could be adopted for successful eradication of this evil trade and successful conservation efforts could be implemented for protecting the wildlife. In most developing and under developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America rich in biodiversity resources; the national economies have been under deplorable shape and condition over decades post World War II following the end of different colonial rulers. The newly independent nations from these continents under the poor leadership and successively corrupt, incapable and handicapped national governments mismanaged their economies with no long term sustainable planning for the progressive development of their nations. As a consequence, a substantial part of the population who where painfully exploited during the colonial periods have continued to live under abject poverty with very poor and negligible education, training and regular employment opportunities, societal and racial discriminations, serious ethnic conflicts, civil wars, economic exploitations by the other better off members of the society taking advantage of their downtrodden situation of the poorest of the poor and the political instability and anarchy existing in these nations.

A significant part of these deprived communities from developing and under developed world are located in remote rural areas, forest fringes, under developed backyards and badlands and several of them are in real sense of the term forest residents. They have neither any future nor opportunity to grow economically and are heavily dependent on their scanty local forest resources for their daily sustenance. Hence, for their desperate attempts of survival they have been at the base of the theoretical pyramid of stakeholders involved in illegal wildlife trade. These helpless and poor communities are recruited by local war lords or corrupt politicians and/or administrators, local business people and black marketers (as the case may be) involved at the next higher level of this illegal trade. Higher above this are the middlemen who links these corrupted business communities to further bigger national and international trading syndicates that constitute a formidable stakeholder elite group in the process that provides the huge economic, political and administrative, communication and intelligence support necessary for maintaining the trade. At the peak of the pyramid of stakeholders are the consumers who are paying for this illegal wildlife trade for their fascination for wildlife as pet and trophy items, for their use in traditional medicine and illegal pharmaceutical markets based in the strong and immerging economies of the middle east, central, south, south east and far eastern reaches of Asia, EU, North America, Australia and other economically prosperous regions of the world. This is happening in spite of strict legislative and administrative safe guards discouraging illegal wildlife trade through loop holes in the system and black markets of wildlife trade existing in these progressive nations. Furthermore, insurgencies have developed in the rural and under developed areas of several such poor nations; and the cash flow from this trade are being efficiently used by some opportunistic quarters for fuelling such activities further promoting anarchy and destabilization complicating the process. The whole situation has much broader eco-sociological implications and what we have been observing through the global illegal wildlife trade is only the tip of the iceberg of a much serious and deeper inter- and intra- societal economic and political crisis in the developing and under developed nations. Hence, unless the deplorable and helpless conditions of the remote rural settlers, forest fringe community members and local poor residents are made economically sustainable there is no way any nation in this planet, whatsoever economically and politically strong could ever put an end to this evil trade.

Reasons for the urgent need of conservation of the global avifauna and wildlife species are presented below:

 

  1. Conservation is very important for the protection of our environment preventing us from several natural disasters and calamities such as floods, drought, famines, fire and cyclonic storms. Case in point is the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans. Rapid deforestation and degradation of this key habitat, home to several endangered avian and wildlife species, due to severe anthropogenic pressures have been making the inland more vulnerable to frequent cyclonic disturbances and large scale damages of property and life.
  2. The loss of several key animal and plant species from any such fragile ecosystem as mentioned above is reducing sustenance opportunities for the local resident human populations due to over exploitation, non-judicious use and heavy consumption of local forest resources with whatsoever no long term planning. All these approaches in turn are making the life of the local people extremely difficult with lesser economic opportunities by each passing year.
  3. Conservation of avian and wildlife species is also important in effectively preventing rapidly advancing and impending desertification at several places. With the loss of several important plant species and vegetation, the productivity of the land is invariably reduced. In absence of the vegetation, the top soil is soon eroded due to several geological factors, exposing the barren under skeleton of the soil profile. The approaching deserts then slowly consume adjoining agriculturally suitable lands curbing livelihood opportunities for local people. Rapid loss of vegetation is also an important factor contributing towards devastating landslides.

  4. Rapid fragmentation of habitats. Loss of animal migration corridors (due to several factors like unplanned expansion of rural housing, agricultural and industrial complexes in previously forested areas, severe environmental pressures due to anthropogenic influences beyond the carrying capacity of a ecological zone) pushes resident wildlife populations out of their conventional range areas into direct confrontation with local resident human populations, rural inhabitants and forest fringe dwellers.
  5. The severe competition for food, water and space between wildlife and local residents are resulting in severe human-animal conflicts in majority of the developing and under developed nations resulting in the loss of local wildlife as well as human life and properties.
  6. Loss of species is related to severe degradation of vulnerable ecosystems. Many of such ecological and biodiversity hotspots are important tourism centers for both local and foreign visitors enthusiastic about wildlife, bringing in economic prosperities for such areas and valuable foreign exchange for any nation.
  7. Death of such key tourism centers will certainly block the much needed cash flow into a region and suspend the economic growth of the local people for better life and opportunities.
  8. Conservation not only helps in preserving plants and animals, but it also builds the nation by strengthening the bases of natural resources and caters to the life of the people by supporting the growth of the local and regional economies. It not only helps in protecting the endangered species but it also makes the region secure against environmental pollution, natural calamities and ecological disasters.

  9. Over-exploitation of the fishing stocks and non-judicious and indiscriminate harvesting for the purpose of commercial fisheries​ and increasing consumer demands are seriously jeopardizing ​global fish populations. Hence it is important to have strong legislative protection and safeguards for the long term sustainability of both the marine and freshwater fishing industries for conserving several important species that have been endangered due to commercial overexploitation. Another factor that is important to mention here is that the depletion of global fish stocks as well as several terrestrial and aquatic (freshwater, estuarine and marine) vertebrate and invertebrate species are not only impacting us, but also birds and other wildlife species due to loss of their prey base and important food sources.
  10. It is nice to know about different local, regional and international conferences on avian and wildlife conservation efforts and about human-animal conflicts. There are no doubt important discussions made in these platforms and certainly some resolutions are arrived at the end of the deliberations by several noted participants who are well known in their respective fields and are also highly respected for their roles. However, whether such conferences will be able to provide a guide map for future conservation of the wildlife and help in significant contribution towards protecting the species is doubtful. One of the missed angles in all such conferences is the lack of participation of the most important stakeholders, the local residents who spend their lives along with wildlife species both in India and abroad. Without really getting the feedback from their perspective, how far the conservation efforts are going to be successful in the long term is questionable. It will be important to include stakeholders from the lowest level of engagement with the species in future deliberations to identify the true genre of human-elephant conflict to carve out a passage way for the successful conservation of the species. One of the significant lessons learnt in successful conservation of other major species in different corners of the world, particularly from the developing and under-developed world is the strong correlation between the economic development, year long employment opportunities and sustainability of the local residents with protection of target bird and wildlife species.
  11. The loss and thefts of protected species, including highly endangered avifauna from several zoological gardens, biodiversity and eco-parks around the world, has been increasing at an alarming proportion. It is absolutely shocking to note that protected species are being targeted from the sacred haven where they are placed for highest protection. This must be an insider mediated activity and through investigations need to be conducted to reach to the bottom of the incident. The level of security in the zoological gardens across the nation and their poor maintenance is a certain cause of national shame and the failure to provide security is indeed a grave crime. It is sad to note that so many species including avifauna in the zoos across the nation are suffering due to such negligence on the part of the zoo management committees.
  12. Mangrove belts across the planet are facing serious challenges of environmental pollution, climate change regimes due to global warming and rising sea water level are further compounded by the local anthropogenic pressures. One important example is the Sunderbans that constitute the world’s largest mangrove delta in the Indian subcontinent across the Bay of Bengal spread across the two sister nations of India and Bangladesh. The tremendous anthropogenic pressures generated on the Sunderban ecosystem due to poor people living across the border of the two countries in combination of other factors are seriously endangering the mangrove vegetation threatening several local bird species and other wildlife with the eminent threats of extinction and is in need of immediate attention.

    Although the economic empowerment of any region is absolutely important; however, the challenges of the conservation of the local ecosystem and environment constituting the fragile local biodiversity; and wildlife and avian members will be monumental. Unless a healthy balance is maintained between economic developments and the environment conservation simultaneously in following the principles of Eco-sociology; there could be substantial challenges the conservation of biodiversity. This vicious cycle is a never ending wave of jeopardy and will continue to haunt all the stakeholders in the process-the society, rural resident and fringe dwellers, forest guards and managers, endangered species, government and the public. Wildlife conservation is not that easy and exciting as it appears on the surface but way more daunting and critically challenging since it has a broad eco-sociological base to it. Without solving the anthropogenic crisis, the wildlife conservation is only but a distant dream in developing and under developed nations. The loss of endangered avian species is extremely painful and more such losses are anticipated in the future, since we do not want to take up the task of dealing with the real socio-economic factor resulting in poaching and illegal capture of birds and wildlife in vulnerable ecosystems. Furthermore, if the local flagship species are so severely impacted, one can well understand the impact it could have on other avian members of disturbed habitats.

    We can therefore conclude that global biodiversity and avian and wildlife species conservation and climate change mitigation are all important aspects of protecting the natural environment and ecosystem and every nation has its own dynamics and policies to deal with these challenges. We need to remember what applies and are successful in developed nations may not be suitable and adaptable in developing and under developed countries; although on surface they may appear to be excellent ideas. Furthermore, almost all protected areas (such as sanctuaries, national parks, biodiversity parks, eco reserves and eco-parks, reserve forests and nature biospheres) have to deal with challenges of human encroachments and illegal rural settlements in remote areas, permanent forest residents and fringe forest dwellers that are heavily dependent on the local forest resources for their daily sustenance threatening the biodiversity. They are deprived of health centers, year round job opportunities, education and awareness and almost zero economic developments in the region. Unless these important eco-sociological parameters are taken care of for dealing with the anthropogenic pressures on the local biodiversity, no conservation efforts are ever going to be completely successful. Global avian and wildlife conservation is integrated with socio-economic development of the local human population and without the active support and participation of the local residents; biodiversity conservation in the real sense of the term is only but a distant dream.

Article contributed by: Saikat Kumar Basu

Photo credits: Saikat Kumar Basu (Canada), Nancy Butler (USA), William Cetzal-Ix (Mexico), Tony Elders (Australia), Ratnabali Sengupta, Jayoti Naskar, Sheuli Dasgupta, Srimoyi Mazumder, Monikankana Dasgupta & Pallav Mukhopadhyay (India), Sonam Tashi (Bhutan), Harun Rashid (Bangladesh), Peiman Zandi (Iran), Xiuhua Wu (China), Sukrishna Ishii (Japan) & Olga Osdachuk (Russia)

Swifts – Living on the Wing

January 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

With their forked tails and scythe-shaped wings, swifts herald the arrival of spring in Europe and are seen as the bringers of rain in parts of Africa where they spend their winters. These amazing birds spend almost their entire lives in flight, so much so that their legs are small and too weak to support them for long when perching, explaining why their family name, Apodidae, is taken from the Greek word meaning ‘without feet’. Spine-tailed swifts, also known as white-throated needletails, have been measured as flying up to speeds of 105 mph (169km/h), while common swifts are known to routinely reach speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h).

Although they resemble swallows, swifts are placed in the same order as hummingbirds, Apodiformes, while swallows are of the order Passeriformes. Their similarities are attributed to convergent evolution, a phenomena where differing species develop similar traits due to lifestyle adaptations, in this case their habit of catching insects in flight.

Distances are immaterial to swifts, as they can easily fly 500 miles in a day. Most swifts remain airborne from when they fledge to the first time they breed – a period of roughly four years. It’s been estimated that in a swift’s lifetime it will cover a distance of around 1.28 million miles. They even roost on the wing, circling gently for hours as the two sides of their brains take turns in sleeping. Swifts only nest to raise their young, and are fond of doing so inside roofs of houses. Parents can gather and carry as many as 1,000 insects to feed their young, making them very effective insect controllers. When the fledglings leave the nest, they all take to the skies and so the cycle continues.

When swifts are feeding in the late afternoon, they swoop through the air in a series of aerobatics that are fascinating to watch. As is the case with hummingbirds, swifts are able to rotate their wings in a manner that keeps them fully extended and rigid, delivering power on both the upstroke and downstroke, thereby increasing their speed and maneuverability. No other bird species are able to do this. So if you happen to have the good fortune to see swifts in action, take some time to appreciate their unique characteristics.

International Dawn Chorus Day

January 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Events

International Dawn Chorus Day is the worldwide celebration of nature’s daily miracle. This year there will be more opportunities than ever to join in the excitement. In the run up to the event events from all over the world and across the UK will be listed on www.idcd.info/ so visit regularly to see what’s planned in your area.

Celebrated on the first Sunday of May, the story goes that International Dawn Chorus Day began in the 1980s when broadcaster and environmentalist Chris Baines asked everyone to attend his birthday party at 4am so they could enjoy the dawn chorus with him. Since then IDCD has grown from a small event in Birmingham UK to an annual international celebration with Dawn Chorus events held as far afield as the Caribbean and Antarctica.

Date: 3 May 2015
Venue: Visit www.idcd.info/events/ for information on venues.

Climate Change: Impending dangers, debates, conflicts and negative impacts on global avifauna

January 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

The recent (November, 2014) climate change goals announced by two major global economies (US and China) for reducing 28% emissions by 2025 and 2030 by US and China respectively appear on the surface to be exciting news. However, the real consequences down the decades are doubtful. How far this will really make any significant difference to global climate justice is absolutely doubtful. None of the top industrialized nations are ready to cut down the rate of their industrial growth or switch to alternative available technologies from the fear of losing the quality of their life and slowing down their economies. The power house of global politics across the planet has been dominated by the vested interests of different industrial lobbies. An eyewash treaty may look excellent on the media platform but if there is no political will to implement them in any form other than making political and strategic gains, they will turn out into another joke like the “Kyoto Protocol” and fail to achieve anything significant with respect to abetment of global warming and climate change. Since “seeing is believing”; the world will watch with interest if any such real change is actually observed following the flamboyant announcements or whether it is yet another political joke that we are all used to.

The impending dangers of global warming are indeed a matter of great concern for all, from the tropics to the temperate in both the eastern and western hemispheres; from the unpredictable weather patterns in the tropics to the harsh Eurasian winters or melting of ice in the polar region are threatening our globe with serious consequences. If one reviews an example from the context of the Indian subcontinent, the impending danger of climate change is alarmingly exposed. The increasing sea water level in the Indian Ocean basin has been threatening several small island nations and island groups like Maldives and parts of coastal Sri Lanka, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Lakshadweep group of islands are extremely vulnerable. We have to initiate the process of engineering an advanced, detailed plan to prepare for any possible disaster mitigation in the future. Several small low lying island nations across the planet await similar prospect. Furthermore, if this be the situation for human aspect of the story, one could clearly imagine what fate waits for the helpless wildlife of these unfortunate countries that are severely impacted by climate change.


It is important to note from a historical perspective that the Western nations have been industrialized far back compared to the numerous under-developed and developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, that earned their independence and transformed into modern democracies only in the post World War II period. These countries are unfortunately still struggling to find a stronger economic foundation plagued by several problems after centuries of ruthless exploitation by the colonizers from the West. Under such appalling conditions and disproportionate global economic growth, can we ever think about anything close to climate justice? Several of these countries are in need of rapid industrialization utilizing their regional and local natural resources for stabilizing their highly jeopardized economy and have no available technology to reduce green house gas emissions. Hence, an immediate effective and efficient resolution with respect to climate change mitigation from the perspective of developing and under developed nations is a distant and unsettled dream.

One of the criticism as projected by the developing and under-developed countries against the developed and industrialized world is that lack of consideration for real life situations in the developing countries. According to this, the rosy ideas regarding climate change regulations that hovers in the mind of Western philosophers, environmentalists, activists, diplomats and politicians who had never seen anything whatsoever close to true economic hardships, abject poverty, civil wars, deaths and destruction are making important decisions for the whole planet and taking credit for this. As long as there will be this economic disparity between the developed and developing nations of the world; all fascinating ideas regarding climate change mitigation and climate justice will be a failure. The developing countries insist that they are in need of rapid industrialization utilizing their natural resources for establishing a better regional economy for their long term sustenance. The climate mitigation regulations will therefore jeopardize their economic progress and that thy lack the alternative green technologies and funds necessary for switching towards climate friendly technology and policy currently.

The developed nations who have been industrialized heavily and responsible for the major and historic share of the climate change issues do not agree to this and indicated that no such compensation funding could be provided by them based on the current global economic situations. Hence due to lack of coordination and cooperation between the developing and developed nations no concrete roadmap for climate mitigation could be actually drawn. The recent 12-day meeting at Peru (Peru Summit, 2014) by 190 nations to agree on a draft proposal for constituting a historic agreement on climate change to be signed at Paris in December 2015 and for enactment by 2020 did not reach its’ targeted objective. The developed nations informed that there will be no funds available to support the programs for climate mitigation in developing and under developed nations currently; and the developing nations blocked the motion for climate mitigation as their economies are not ready or prepared yet to handle the burden of climate change mitigation immediately. As a consequence, a dead block has been reached with no viable alternative tabled to resolve the situation with a long term sustainable and comprehensive solution, agreeable to both stakeholders.


How does it impact the global wildlife, particularly the global avifauna? The impact is unfortunately quite drastic and detrimental to the global avian life and population. Change of temperature has been found to be negatively correlated to the foraging, nesting and breeding behaviors of several species distributed across the planet both in the tropical, temperate regions. What is more disturbing is the fact that a vast majority of avian species have their habitats in the biodiversity hotspots located in the developing and under-developed countries. Unless serious, comprehensive, global effort is initiated with respect to climate mitigation a substantial number of species across the planet are in the danger of losing their habitats and hence are seriously endangered due to global climate change. Another important factor is the shortage of availability of traditional prey species for several avian members in various parts of the globe.


Climate change has seriously impacted both aquatic (freshwater, estuarine and marine) and terrestrial biomes across the planet thereby negatively impacting the food bases of several avifauna members. The life cycles of fishes and numerous smaller aquatic and terrestrial invertebrate species and their reproduction has been showing signs of transformations with respect to their population dynamics over the decades; reducing the number of several prey species, while increasing the preponderance of different pest species. The steady availability of prey species and food sources are directly related to the population dynamics of the avian species; and hence any shift in that will be reflected in the avifauna population across the planet. Furthermore, the loss of habitats are also negatively impacting the traditional foraging and breeding sites further impacting the avifauna population. In addition, some trends in the shifting of migration patters have also been noticed in some species impacting the distribution as well as the structure of the population of vulnerable species.


Climate change has been impacting regional economies; in particular developing and under developed nations are worst hit in the process. As a consequence, the anthropogenic pressures on the prime wildlife habitats and biodiversity hotspots are ever increasing with need for industrialization, agricultural expansions, extension of rural and urban areas promoting encroachment, poaching, illegal capture and underground pet trade for endangered avifauna. The roadblock in the negotiation for climate mitigation between developing and developed countries is thus having a serious effect on the life of different global avian species. Unless we get together on a common platform and agree to establish a framework for global climate mitigation pretty soon, it may be too late in terms of saving the critically endangered avian members of the planet.

Article submitted by: Saikat Kumar Basu

Golden Pheasants – Elegant and Exotic

January 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Indigenous to the mountains of central China, Golden Pheasants (Chrysolophus pictus) are spectacularly beautiful birds that are so well adapted to living in captivity they have become popular pets in many countries far from their original habitat. Some researchers are of the opinion that the Golden Pheasant was likely the first species of pheasant brought into North America in the mid-1700s, and they have formed several feral populations in parts of the United Kingdom.

The Golden Pheasant and Lady Amherst Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) are both Ruffed Pheasants, so named for the ruff the male spreads around his face and neck as part of his courtship ritual. The female Golden Pheasant is brown in color with dark rippled bars running from her head down her body and wings, while her face, throat and rump are buff. The male, on the other hand, is one of the most colorful birds around, with a silky-golden crest, tinged with red at the tips. Its face, chin, throat and sides of its neck are a rusty tan color, while its orbital skin and wattles are yellow. The ruff of the Golden Pheasant is light orange, with a bluish-black border on each feather. The green upper back of the bird contrasts beautifully with its golden-yellow back and rump, while its scarlet breast blends into a light chestnut color on its flanks and underparts. Its tertiary wing feathers are blue, with dark red scapulars, while its central tail feathers are black with buff spots and the tip of its tail being buff.

Although they are brightly colored, they are not always easy to spot in their natural habitat of dense forest, so not much is known about their habits in the wild. What is known is that they forage on the ground, eating grain, leaves and invertebrates, and they can fly short distances, roosting in trees at night.

As they are compatible with other types of birds (but not always with other pheasant species), Golden Pheasants can be kept in an environment with waterfowl, peafowl, doves, pigeons and other birds. They are very hardy, breed easily in captivity and the chicks are easy to raise. As such, Golden Pheasants are a good choice for first-time pheasant owners and a firm favorite among veteran bird keepers.

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