Perils of extinction for several migratory species of birds in Iran

The wetlands of Iran constitute an important destination of several migratory bird species from Europe, and Russia including Siberia, Mongolia, China, Central Asia and Africa. Several species fly unbelievably long distances between the continents and cross over the Caspian Sea to enter the borders of Iran and finally settling into different wetlands, forested areas and river valleys. The two major migration paths that include Iran as transit points are the Central Asian migratory route and the African-Eurasian migration pathway. The inland geographical location of Iran within the Asian continent along with multiple seasons, abundant wetlands (in the form of water bodies like inland lakes, pools, ponds, ditches, swamps, marshlands), plain forests, mountain forests, dry forests, woods, scrubs, river valleys, riverine forests, diverse ecosystems and abundant food sources making it an attractive destination for a large number of migratory bird species from Central Asia, Europe and Africa. Different species of ducks and geese, grebes, pochards, cormorants, bitterns, egrets, cranes, herons, storks, spoonbills, ibis, flamingo, lapwings, phalaropes, coots, plovers, sandpipers, curlews, snipes, terns, common greenshanks, dunlins etc visit Iran as migratory species. In addition different species of raptors such as vultures, falcons and eagles also migrate to Iran following their strong prey base that takes refuge within the boundaries of the nation. On an average, between 2-4 million migratory birds are estimated to pass through Iran every year.

Thus the wetlands and forests of Iran constitute a global hotspot rich with numerous magnificent avian species foraging, nesting and breeding and then leaving at the end of the winter for their home ranges. These areas have traditionally grown into important tourist hubs due to the exquisite natural beauty, relatively pollution free environment, spectacular biodiversity, wild nature and serenity. Several tourists from the major Iranian cities like Teheran flock to these tourist centers to enjoy a glimpse of the natural beauty. However, a section of the tourist and local community members also get together for the purpose of hunting both with and without proper hunting licenses. It is this unprecedented surge of hunting pressure and poaching that has been causing havoc with several migratory species of birds, seriously impacting their population bases while visiting the Iranian wetlands as their winter refuge. Several species such as the Siberian crane, sociable lapwing, white backed vulture etc are migratory species that have been placed under the critical endangered species category by IUCN; while white-headed duck, Egyptian vulture etc have become nearly threatened.

Several local legal and illegal (underground/black) markets have also developed in and round these regions selling meat of wild migratory birds to the tourists and visitors and to the local population as cheap source of animal protein and as an exotic meat. The meat of migratory birds are extremely popular with the tourists as well as locals and are openly served in local restaurants, pubs and hotels; and has also turned into a common food item for the domestic kitchens. Due to high local demand several local youths and tribesmen has changed into poachers and hunters who illegally capture, slaughter and sell the defenseless birds to the middlemen; who then sell it to the local businessmen operating meat trade in the local legal and illegal markets. The worst hit is particularly different migratory species of wild ducks and geese. According to the local agencies approximately 3 out of 4 million migratory birds are illegally hunted by poachers and local hunters; and that these people are rarely arrested or prosecuted. The hunting and poaching pressures on these wetlands and other available refuges of migratory bird species in Iran has gone up exponentially pushing several migratory bird species to the status of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered from not threatened in the span of just last three decades. Furthermore, due to tremendous anthropogenic pressures on the migratory bird habitats by tourists, locals, hunters and poachers; several species are running the risk of extinctions if such activities continue for future decades without any intervention.

The lack of education and awareness among the local and tribal communities in remote corners of the country, poor management and regulations, poor economic development and lack of opportunities for sustainable economic growth on a long term basis, lack of political initiatives and will, local traditions and taboos, social customs, insurgence of unplanned, unrestricted and unmonitored tourism have been some of the socio-economic factors contributing towards the sharp rise in poaching and illegal capture of migratory birds in these regions. The government and non-government agencies in charge of the conservation and protection of the regions are ill equipped, poorly trained and funded to deal with the grim situation. The number of incidents of poaching is way too high for the existing staff members and volunteers working on these projects to handle efficiently and effectively.

They are short of manpower, funding, gears and equipments to deal with the proper survey, study, monitoring and evaluation. They are acutely short staffed in regulating and/or restricting the incidents of rampant poaching and operation of legal and illegal migratory bird meat markets and illegal pet trade centers operating in these localities. Often the poachers and illegal business operators on wild birds have better organized networks, sophisticated arms and instruments than the regulatory agencies. The poor salary structure, harsh job conditions, long working hours and lack of opportunities and incentives do not attract enough quality candidates to apply for these job positions. Due to lack of proper advertisement and initiatives, dedicated and sincere volunteers are also not easy to recruit. The consequence being a poorly trained and severely marginalized force has to operate with their poor infrastructure and facilities in the conservation and protection of huge areas, which become both logically as well as logistically impossible to manage efficiently.  Under these circumstances the future of several migratory bird species in Iran is hopeless and dimensionless and if no appropriate measures are taken at the earliest, several species of migratory birds could be threatened with the dangers of extinction in the not so distant future.

Socio-economic development of the under privileged regions will be important for possible improvements in conservation efforts. It is necessary to establish alternate employment opportunities and economic engagement for people involved in the illegal trade on migratory bird species and poaching activities. Highly organized campaigns will be needed to promote education and awareness among the local populations, indigenous communities, tourists and visitors about the importance of the migratory bird species and their role in maintaining healthy balance of the extremely fragile and sensitive ecosystems. Proper training and funding for the different regulatory and environmental protection and conservation agencies will be necessary to well organize and equip the personnel involved in successfully conducting regular surveys on endangered bird populations; monitoring and surveillance of the sensitive local ecosystems; raids, arrests and conviction of those involved in poaching and illegal trade on wild meat of migratory bird species. Above all campaigns in educating general public making them aware of the impending dangers of the possibility of extinction of the critically threatened migratory bird species need to be emphasized.

Article submitted by: Saikat Kumar Basu and Peiman Zandi

Photo credit: Peiman Zandi

Suggested readings

Ashoori, A., Barati, A., and Reihanian, H.- r. (2007) Recent observations of the Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius at Boujagh National Park, Gilan Province, and Agh Gol wetland, Hamedan Province and its status in Iran. Podoces. Vol. 2(2): 148-150.

Ghasemi, A. Omidi, Z. Mohammadi, G. Barati, A. (2012) Wetlands as habitats for migratory birds (Case study: Agh-gol and Abshineh wetlands). Journal of Environmental Sciences and Technology, 53-54: 31-39.

Khaleghizadeh, A., Scott, D.A., Tohidifar, M., Musavi, S.B., Ghasemi, M., Sehhatisabet, M.E.,  Ashoori,  A.,  Khani,  A.,  Bakhtiari,  P., Amini, H., Roselaar, C., Ayé,  R., Ullman, M., Nezami, B., and Eskandari, F. (2011) Rare Birds in Iran in 1980−2010. Podoces. Vol. 6(1): 1–48.

Web resources:

http://www.iran-daily.com/News/58717.html
http://www.parstimes.com/travel/iran/hunting.html
http://fatbirder.com/links_geo/middle_east/iran.html
http://www.guyanajournal.com/wildlife_conservation.html
http://www.birds.com/blog/wetland-birds-a-conservation-priority-for-iran/

http://observers.france24.com/content/20150120-iran-wetlands-migrating-birds-hunters
http://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org/
http://www.birds.com/blog/avian-parks-and-gardens-are-important-conservation-and-education-tools-a-case-study-from-iran/

Wings Over Water North West Birding Festival

December 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

The 13th Annual Wings Over Water North West Birding Festival is a celebration of the migratory birds that stop over at various locations in the Northwest of Washington State along the Pacific Flyway. The festival features field trips, demonstrations, nature cruises, expert speakers, a birding expo, children’s activities and more.

For more information visit http://www.wingsoverwaterbirdingfestival.com/

Date: 13 to 15 March 2015
Location: Blaine
State: Washington
Country: United States

Vancouver’s Bird Week: Promoting Appreciation for Birds

April 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

The coastal seaport city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, features a wide variety of habitats which attract large numbers of birds. To encourage interest in local and migratory birdlife, Vancouver hosts an annual event called Vancouver’s Bird Week, with the 2014 program taking place on May 3-10. This week-long celebration offers a host of bird-related walks, talks, workshops, exhibition and lectures at various venues across Vancouver, at no cost to participants. The Roundhouse and Hillcrest community centers will host artists’ workshops for all ages, as well as art exhibitions, and the week will draw to a close on World Migratory Bird Day with a series of nature walks in Vancouver’s spectacular parks.

As part of the celebrations, members of the public are encouraged to choose from six popular Vancouver bird species to decide which will be honored as the City’s Bird for the year. This is the first time a City Bird is being selected in this way, and the winner is to be announced on May 10, the closing day of Vancouver’s Bird Week. Birds in the running for the honor of City Bird include Anna’s Hummingbird, the Black-Capped Chickadee, the Pileated Woodpecker, Varied Thrush and Northern Flicker – all beautiful birds, each with their own unique characteristics.

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is the largest of the City Bird candidates and is very distinctive with its black body, white stripes, flaming red crest and long, strong beak. Residing in mature forests and wooded parks, Woodpeckers are known for pecking holes in trees while searching out their preferred meal of carpenter ants. The Pileated Woodpecker makes quite large rectangular holes in trees, sometimes weakening smaller trees and causing them to break. They do not restrict their search to a particular species of tree and will search for ants and beetle larvae in both coniferous and deciduous trees, sometimes peeling long strips of bark from trees as they do so. They also forage through leaf litter on the ground and eat nuts and fruit. The woodpecker’s search for food produces a loud hammering sound that can be heard from far away. They also hammer as part of their mating ritual and to set their territorial boundaries. Certainly the Pileated Woodpecker is among the more fascinating birds living in the vicinity of Vancouver.

Picture courtesy of Nigel from Vancouver (Wikimedia Commons)