India has an ambitious new plan to protect hundreds of bird species

The great Indian bustard is particularly threatened by high-tension power lines. (Photo credit: Saurabhsawantphoto/Wikimedia Commons)
The great Indian bustard is particularly threatened by high-tension power lines. (Photo credit: Saurabhsawantphoto/Wikimedia Commons)

India’s government has released a draft of an ambitious, 10-year plan to protect hundreds of threatened and endangered bird species.  

The draft is comprehensive, and includes recovery plans for endangered species, as well as a “landscape approach” that can protect birds in cities, and conserve critical habitat including wetlands and coastal regions. 

Subcontinent of birds

While national conservation efforts more famously focus on endangered tigers and other threatened large mammals, India is also home to 1,317 bird species. 

Of these, 100 species currently considered threatened, 37 are either endangered or critically endangered, and 270 more species are rare and vulnerable.

The plan justifies new protections based on birds’ “ecosystem services” — including pest control, crop pollination, seed dispersal, and even garbage disposal. 

Vultures, for instance, eat the bodies of dead animals, removing biohazards that can contaminate water sources and attract disease-bearing pests. 

Risks and hazards

In tandem with the draft protection plan, a coalition of conservation organizations has just released a new report, the State of India’s Birds 2020, that shows that over the last quarter-century, around 20 percent of India’s bird species have suffered significant population declines. 

While a few bird populations, including the Indian peafowl, have increased, numerous raptors and migratory shorebirds have plummeted in numbers.

There are myriad risks to birds in India. 

Chief among these are habitat degradation, plastics, pesticides, climate change, clandestine hunting and trapping, and energy projects. 

Across India and other Old World nations, tens of millions of birds die every year due to impacts with turbines and power lines. 

Populations of the iconic great Indian bustard are particularly threatened by high-tension power lines. 

Bird collisions with wind-power propellers are also common. 

(Semi)-protected zones

Birds do find some protection inside India’s 554 “important bird and biodiversity areas” and 870 parks. 

However, over 200 of these “biodiversity areas” do not have protection as parks. 

Wetlands are highlighted in India’s draft protection plan for birds: There are 201,503 recognized wetlands larger than 5.5 hectares. 

Though most are stressed from human impacts, all are important as breeding, stopover and wintering sites for birds.

The plan calls for better monitoring and protection of both migratory birds as well as year-round populations, including in cities. 

But according to Delhi ornithologist Bikram Grewal, even though the plan sets a precedent for its scope and ambition, it will be an empty promise without enforcement and funding. 

“[T]he real test is always the implementation,” he told Quartz India, “as there is huge development pressure on the environment ministry. In the hierarchy of conservation actions, birds come well below major species like tigers. Where is the money for protection and conservation of birds and their habitats?”

Sources: Quartz, The Hindu, Times of India

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