ISLAMABAD: The number of birds migrating from Siberia, which add colours to the wetlands of Pakistan, has declined drastically in recent years.

Extreme weather in Russia forces many precious species of birds to leave their home in search of moderate weather which they find in India, but on their way they make stopovers at different lakes and water reservoirs in Pakistan, including Tanda Dam (Kohat) and Haleji, Keenjhar and Lungsee lakes.

About one million birds used to migrate from Siberia every year, including houbara bustards, cranes, teals, pintails, mallards, geese, spoon bills, waders and pelicans, using the Indus Flyway, also known as the International Migratory Bird Route Number 4, covering a distance of about 4,500km.

But now environmentalists are observing an alarming decrease in the number of migratory birds visiting Pakistan.

“It is quite alarming that birds, migratory as well as native, are disappearing,” said Ghulam Rasool Khatri, Field Coordinator of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Mr Khatri, who is engaged in conservation work at the Keenjhar Lake, Pakistan’s largest freshwater reservoir, said the number of migratory birds making stopovers each year at the lake had declined from 205,000 to 13,706.

In 1987-88, about 65 species of waterfowl were recorded at Keenjhar Lake. However, a census carried out in 2010 revealed that a large number of waterfowl had avoided visiting the lake and the total number of birds had also declined drastically.

The breeding birds at the lake include night heron, cotton teal, pheasant-tailed jacana and purple moorhen besides some passerines. The cotton teal had disappeared altogether in recent years, Mr Khatri said.

Human activities, including land reclamation and deforestation, and indirect human influences, such as climate change and fragmentation and degradation of habitats, are some of the causes of decline in the number of migratory birds, said an official of the wildlife department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He said the provincial government was taking steps to make journey of migratory birds safe by controlling hunting of birds under its policy titled “Management of Waterfowls along river Kabul and Indus in KP”.

The migratory birds start their journey from Siberia in September /October and begin returning to their native areas by the end of March or start of April.

Some experts believe that the migratory birds provide ecological benefits as they prey on insects and weeds, thus contributing towards the betterment of agriculture.

Dr Mohammad Rafique, director of the zoological sciences division of the Pakistan Museum of Natural History, said there were seven identified flyways in the world which include passages from Northern Europe to Scandinavian countries, Central Europe to Mediterranean Sea, Western Siberia to Red Sea, Green Route from Siberia to Pakistan, Ganga Flyway from Eastern Siberia to India, Manchuria to Korea and Chakotaka to California.

Pakistan’s wetlands were no exception to hosting enormous biodiversity of migratory birds and some indigenous fauna. Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds, including cranes, geese, ducks, swans and waders migrate between their breeding grounds in the north and wintering grounds in the south, he added.

Mr Rafique said the wildlife department had taken a number of measures to curtail hunting of migratory birds.

“Before 1970 there was no rule for protection of migratory birds. However, after Ramsar convention in Iran and Bonn Convention in Germany, laws to protect migratory birds were enacted.”

He said birds like ducks and waterfowls whose reproduction was fast were coming in the same number. However, sometimes due to change in weather and especially because of drought, the birds change their route.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2016