Watch the birdsThe feathered friends are key to conservation as their ecological roles far supersede human capacities.
In an exciting development for bird lovers, conservationists and ornithologists, a large flock of the endangered Asian woolly-necked stork was spotted in eastern Chitwan in mid-April this year. In the days that followed, while the country was on a stay-at-home order amid the Covid-19 situation, ornithologists recorded some 28 storks in the area since the first sighting by villagers. Two things, conservationists believe, contributed to this development in Chitwan where sightings of this bird species are rare—reduced human activity during the lockdown and reduced use of pesticides by farmers.
The return of the birds has also been reported locally and internationally. As one of the direct effects of the restrictions imposed by governments across the world to contain the spread of Covid-19, carbon emissions went down significantly and coincided with the mating and migrating season of birds. While ornithologists believe this could contribute to an increase in the population of various bird species, what is important to note is how a better environment can fix a lot of ecological issues in the wake of climate change, including the pandemic that has strangled the world and challenged all anthropocentric notions of development.
Nepal has one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems in the world. The topographical variations from as low as 60 metres above sea level to the world’s highest point at 8,848 metres offers a wide range of landscapes and biodiversity that is home to an equally diverse species of flora and fauna, and especially when it comes to avifauna, Nepal has confirmed some 878 bird species including the Spiny Babbler, which is only found in Nepal. This is 8 percent of the world’s recorded bird species. And there is more. Data from the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation has recorded some nine vulture species. The Bar-headed goose has been spotted flying high in the mountainous region, and ravens are often confused for crows. The country’s lowlands is also home to the largest living woodpecker species and the world’s tallest flying bird—the Great Slaty woodpecker and the Sarus crane.
Nepal’s conservation efforts, especially with the demarcation of national parks, wildlife reserves, hunting reserve and conservation areas across the country, have been lauded worldwide, but data shows that these efforts need to be improved to protect the birds, some of which face extinction. According to a 2016 study The Status of Nepal’s Birds: The National Red List Series that chronicles Nepal’s bird species and maps showing distribution change since 1990, almost 20 percent of Nepal’s birds (167 species) could soon be extinct, including 37 species that are threatened globally.
The assessment led by renowned bird experts Carol and Tim Inskipp and Hem Sagar Baral also warns that a further 62 species are near-threatened nationally, and nine species have not been recorded in the country since the 19th century. Similarly, lowland grass specialist birds are the most threatened group of birds with 55 percent of the species threatened, followed by wetland birds (25 percent) and broadleaved forest birds (24 percent).
The issues for the birds are no different from the usual conservation issues. Habitat loss, poaching, human interference, pesticide poisoning, and lately, the effects of climate change continue to increase the threat for the birds as it does to animals, directly resulting in their decline. We have enough evidence which shows that human-induced changes in the environment lead to drastic losses in biodiversity and, consequently, on birds which are key to conservation as their ecological roles far supersede human capacities.
Birds prey on pests, help pollinate and disperse seeds and build forests, and their presence indicates a thriving ecosystem, from which we directly benefit. Without interventions for conservation, birds will continue to disappear and we will face the brunt of the consequences. We cannot shy away from fulfilling international commitments to prevent species extinction and to improve their conservation status. Watch the birds.