KARACHI, Aug 5: An estimated 35 to 40 pairs of the globally-threatened waterfowl, the marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris), have been sighted in the Nara Game Reserve, say wildlife officials. The ducks were reported to have been accompanied by about 80 or 90 chicks.

The birds were spotted in the Daang-i-Wari Lake, the Jagir Lake and Kathore Lake during an ecological survey of the game reserve carried out by Sukkur deputy conservator for wildlife Hussain Bakhsh Bhaagat and ornithologist Abdul Razzaque. Scattered populations of the species have also been reported from a few other lakes in the area.

Considered vulnerable due to a worldwide reduction in population caused by the destruction of habitat, the marbled ducks are passing migrant visitors in Pakistan. They arrive in the country from Iran’s Shadegan marshes (in the context of this species a site of vital importance), Afghanistan and various Central Asian states during February and March. After landing first at lakes in the Dadu and Larkana districts, the birds go on to the lakes in the Nara Game Reserve, the Deh Akro II Wildlife Sanctuary and Sanghar.

Marbled ducks breed in lowlands and shallow fresh water; nest-building begins in April and clutches of ten to 12 eggs are laid shortly afterwards, during April and May. Hatchlings emerge from the eggs after an incubation period of between 30 and 35 days and the birds embark upon their return journey in August, when the chicks are able to fly.

Mr Bhaagat told Dawn that although no comprehensive survey has been undertaken to assess the strength of the population that visits Sindh annually, it is believed that between 1,100 and 1,200 pairs are involved. However, he added, estimates made after the recent survey of the Nara Game Reserve, Deh Akro II and Sanghar lakes suggest that the migrant population there has increased to between 2,200 and 2,400 pairs.

In view of the globally threatened status of the marbled teal, the species enjoys full protection under the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972 and is listed as threatened in the red data book of the world conservation union, the IUCN.

Habitat-improvement projects needed

Approximately 40 centimetres long, the adult marbled teal is of a pale sandy-brown colour, diffusely blotched off-white with dark eye-patches and a shaggy head. The chicks are similar but have more off-white blotches. The birds are gregarious, even when nesting, sometimes, and flocks are usually smaller outside the breeding season. They feed mainly in shallow water by dabbing or up-ending and occasionally diving. The global population of the species is believed to lie at somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000, with the bulk recorded in China, Japan, India, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and the Central Asian states.

In the book Birds of Pakistan, bird-watcher T.J. Roberts notes that the marbled teal’s visits to Balochistan’s Sirandah Lake were recorded in 1913 and 1915, and to the Khushdil Khan Lake in 1920 and 1927.

The birds were sighted at Balochistan’s Zangi Nawar Lake in 1942 where it bred until the 1980s when the lake dried up. Subsequently, the species started migrating to Sindh where the lakes of the Nara Game reserve, Deh Akro II and Sanghar district became its preferred breeding habitat. Conservationists suggest that the government initiate conservation and habitat-improvement projects to help increase the population levels of the species and bring them to sustainable levels. They maintain that non-governmental organisations working in the conservation field should extent assistance to the government in this regard.