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JCBC will release eight white-rumped vultures in October-November this year —

A historical picture of vultures in Timapur Delhi. Photo by Goutam Narayan

A historical picture of vultures in Timapur Delhi. Photo by Goutam Narayan

Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre (JCBC) will release eight white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) (earlier known as Oriental white-backed vulture) in October-November this year. This is the first time these scavenging birds will be released with transmitters attached to their bodies so that their movements can be monitored.

World’s largest facility in the world for breeding vultures, in terms of number of individuals, JCBC has 289 birds. Head of the breeding programme for vultures, Dr. Vibhu Prakash, told this web site eight birds will be released in October-November when migratory birds come to India from far off places. This will give released birds an opportunity to mingle with their wild cousins and learn their ways. There is huge possibility when migratory birds return to their summer destination in March-April next year they may take these birds along. This is the whole purpose of this long exercise.

Dr. Prakash said they were waiting for the transmitters, which have now arrived. According to him this is the first time that the birds are going to be released with transmitters. California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), species of New World vultures found in North America, are the only other example on which these transmitters were fitted when their global population was reduced to mere 21. After the vigorous conservation efforts bird was saved from extinction, now there are about 450 condors in the wild.

Out of these eight birds six hatched in JCBC, while two were caught from outside. The idea is bird brought from the wild will be able to ‘guide’ facility-born birds that do not have any experience of outside world.

Vultures, which were once found in huge numbers throughout India and adjoining countries, saw a very steep decline in last 25-30 years.  “This is the fastest decline of any bird species ever reported anywhere in the world”, according to Asad Rahmani, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). A survey across 18 protected areas in India was extrapolated to estimate that in 1991-92 there were over 40 million vultures in India alone, but in just over a decade, after the introduction of Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) administered to cattle, they were gone, their numbers plummeted to near extinction. Three of India’s vulture species of the genus ‘Gyps’ — the long-billed (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed (G. tenuirostris) had crashed by an astounding 97 percent, while in the white-rumped (G. bengalensis) the decline was even more catastrophic, at 99.9 between 1992 and 2007. Vultures feeding on the carcasses of animals recently treated with drug suffered renal failure that caused visceral gout and death.

From millions, the population of the three Gyps species has been recently estimated to be about 20,000, i.e., 12,000 long-billed, 6,000 white-rumped and the rarest being the slender-billed vulture at 1,000.

After it became clear that there is a urgent need for rigorous conservation efforts to save the species JCBC was started in 2007 in Pinjore (Haryana) — a joint effort of the Bombay Natural History Society and the Haryana Forest Department. It is the flagship of eight such breeding centers in India. A total of 162 vultures of all three affected species have been bred and raised in captivity.  

More water birds spotted at Himchal’s Pong Dam in 2018-19 —

Common or Eurasian coot and Common pochard; (pix SShukla); Chandigarh; (Decemeber 2013) (5) (small file)There has been an increase in water birds – resident and migratory – at Himachal Pradesh’s Pong Dam wetland with 5,026 more from the avian species being spotted in 2018-19 over the previous year, wildlife officials said.

The wetland areas of the dam is home to 29 species of resident waterfowls and is a stopover for 62 types of migratory waterfowls from regions in Russia, Central Asia and Tibet. The count of these birds was recorded at 1,10,203 in 2017-18, they said.

The increase was found in the annual waterfowl estimation exercise for monitoring the numerical size of bird’s population during 2018-19 at the wetland, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PPCF)-cum-Chief Wild Life Warden, Himachal Pradesh, Savita, said.

“The survey recorded 1,15,229 birds of 103 different species at Pong Dam Lake this year (for 2018-19), this includes 1,04,230 migratory waterfowls of 58 species, 10,231 resident water birds of 29 species and 768 birds of 16 other local species,” the wildlife official said.

Experts from various organisations and state officials participated in the survey. The area was divided into 26 sections and about 110 persons participated in the exercise. Each section was thoroughly traversed on land and water by a team of three to six members, she said.

The overall sighting of water birds is expected to increase when the migratory ones on their return journey to Russia, Tibet and regions of Central Asia make a stop at the dam’s wetland area, the PCCF said.

They fly back to their breeding grounds from North-West, Central and South India, she said.

The dam, about 100 kms from Dharamshsala, is known as Pong Reservoir, Pong Dam Lake and the Maharana Pratap Sagar. It was created in 1975, by building the highest earth fill dam in India on the Beas River in the wetland zone of the Shivalik hills.

The dam is a well-known wildlife sanctuary and one of the 26 international wetland sites declared in India by the Ramsar Convention. The reservoir covers an area of 60,610 acres, and the wetland portion is 38,700 acres.

“Over the last few years, the Pong Dam area and the Ramsar site have become ideal destinations for winter sojourn for many species of migratory birds,” the PCCF said.

Savita said though four species of migratory waterfowls – mew gull, water rail, ruff and godwit – could not be seen this year, there were sightings of the great crested grebes, red crested pochards, ferruginous pochards, mallards, tufted ducks, Eurasian spoonbills, curlew sandpipers and species of larks and pipits.

In general, 425 species of birds, including terrestrial and summer migrant birds, have been sighted at the Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. The birds are drawn to the area as it provides varied habitats and food, she said.

The intervention done and protection extended by wildlife staff and active involvement of local communities are also reasons of the wetland area turning into a haven for these birds, Savita said.

She said the dominant species are the bar headed geese (29443), northern pintails (17934), common pochards (17742), Eurasian coots (16313), common teals (7918), great cormorants (5600), Eurasian wigeons (1481), gadwals (1408), greylag geese (1249) and ruddy shelducks (1164).

Other uncommon bird species recorded during the survey are the common shelducks (52), northern lapwings (39), common mergansers(31), greater white-fronted geese (24), water pipits(22), pied avocets (6), ospreys (5), black-bellied terns(2), sarus cranes (4), Eurasian curlews (2) and white-tailed lapwings (2).

One each of the lesser white-fronted goose, common ringed plover and hen harrier species were also spotted, Savita said. (Press Trust of India)

Surprise! India and China are greening faster than rest of the World —

Forests in Khajjiar (Himachal Pradesh); (pix SShukla); 14 June 2015; (3) Small fileChina and India – two economic powerhouses of Asia – are contributing significantly to the greening of the planet, a new global study released on 11 February 2019 has found.

The world now has about 5.5 million square kilometers of extra green leaf area round the year compared to 2000. A bulk of this increase is due to greening in China and India. China has contributed 25 percent to this increase while India added 6.8 percent of the total global net increase in leaf area between 2000 and 2017.

The contribution to the greening by the two countries is much higher though they have less vegetated area than some of the developed countries. China has 6.6% and India only 2.7% of global vegetated area. The increase in total leaf area recorded in India is equal to that in the United States or Canada, each of which has three times more vegetated area.

India and China are greening more than the rest of the nations (India Science Wire - 12-02-2019

Greening refers to increase in total leaf area – forests, croplands, orchards, monoculture plantations, commercial plantations.

The increase in green areas is mostly due to 35 percent increase in food production in both the countries with multiple cropping aided by facilitated by fertilizer use and availability of surface as well as groundwater irrigation. China has also taken up on a large scale rejuvenation of forest areas and afforestation on degraded lands.

In China, the greening is from forests (42%) and croplands (32%), but in India it is mostly from croplands (82%) with minor contribution from forests (4.4%).

“Greening due to intensive agriculture does not enhance the land sink because crop carbon quickly returns back to the atmosphere” : Dr. Victor Brovkin

Earlier studies had identified carbon dioxide fertilization as the main reason for the greening of earth’s lands. But this study has found that greening is more due to land use changes. The study is based on satellite data from MODIS sensors of NASA. These sensors view the entire earth twice a day at 500 meter resolution.

“China and India account for one-third of the greening but contain only 9% of the global vegetated land area. This is a surprising finding considering the general notion that there is land degradation in populous countries due to over-exploitation,” Chi Chen of the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, lead researcher, told India Science Wire.

India and China are greening faster than other nations (India Science Wire - 12-02-2019)

The study has been published in journal Nature Sustainability.

However, experts feel that the increase in greening driven by croplands and plantations should not be seen as compensation for loss of forests in Brazil, Indonesia and other parts of the world. “Greening due to intensive agriculture does not enhance the land sink because crop carbon quickly returns back to the atmosphere,” explained Dr. Victor Brovkin of Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Germany, also a co-author of the study.

“Since the contribution of forests in India’s greening is minor (4%) it has not been explored in detail in this study. However, it is important that we find overall greening trend in natural vegetation (forests) in India, unlike some recent studies reporting a browning trend,” commented Dr. Rajiv Kumar Chaturvedi (BITS Pilani, Goa campus), and a member of the research team, while speaking to India Science Wire.

When asked how the new study compares with the forest area statistics of the Forest Survey of India (FSI), Dr Chaturvedi said the two can’t be compared as both have different contexts and objectives. “I believe that FSI estimates are supposed to be more robust as their estimates are supposed to be based on thousands of ground observations, in addition to satellite data. However, FSI estimates will gain more credibility if their ground data as well as satellite assessment is made publicly accessible and is subjected to rigorous peer review,” he added.

The research team included Chi Chen, Taejin Park, Baodong Xu and Ranga B. Myneni (Boston University); Xuhui Wang, Shilong Piao, Zaichun Zhu (Peking University); Rajiv K. Chaturvedi (BITS, Goa campus); Richard Fuchs (Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Germany); Victor Brovkin (Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Germany); Philippe Ciais (Université Paris Saclay, France); Rasmus Fensholt (University of Copenhagen); Hans Tømmervik (Norwegian Institute for Nature Research); Govindasamy Bala (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore); Ramakrishna R. Nemani (NASA Ames Research Center). (India Science Wire)

Number of Indian species in endangered list going up —

Great Indian bustard (Author - Prajwalkm) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Great Indian bustard (Author – Prajwalkm) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

India is on track to meet most of its national biodiversity targets but the list of animal species from the country under the international ‘red list’ in the critically endangered, endangered and threatened categories has been increasing over the years, according to the sixth national report (NR6) submitted to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The increase in the ‘red list’ species indicates severe stress on biodiversity and wild habitats. In 2018 report, According to Hindustan Time’s analysis of the reports over the years, India has a total of 683 animal species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable categories, as compared to 646 species in 2014 when the fifth national report was submitted, and 413 in these categories in 2009 when the fourth national report was submitted.

The sixth national report, submitted on 29 December 2018, lists habitat fragmentation, over exploitation of resources; shrinking genetic diversity; invasive alien species; declining forest resource base; climate change and desertification; impact of development projects; and impact of pollution as threats to genetic diversity.

The bright spot though is that the Botanical Survey of India and the Zoological Survey of India have discovered new species in the past four years.

About 3,655 floral and 1,693 faunal species have been added according to the CBD report 2018 since 2014. The report also states that India’s marine ecosystems host nearly 20,444 faunal species communities.

Of these, 1,180 species are threatened and listed for immediate conservation.

According to Kailash Chandra, director, Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), the reason for the rise in the number of threatened animal species could be because the number of species assessed by IUCN is increasing every year.

“We are making new discoveries and the number of species assessments made by them is increasing. Having said that the number of species threatened by habitat loss is also rising. India is among 17 mega diverse countries and large parts of our country is still unexplored,” he said.

India has more than 100,000 species, according to ZSI.

India’s 12 national biodiversity targets include creating awareness about biodiversity, enforcing policies to document, and conserving biological resources.

The report states that India is working on preventing species extinctions by developing a landscape- and seascape-based approach.

The endangered species (birds and animals) in conservation priority include Asian wild buffalo, Asiatic lion, Brow-antlered deer or Sangai, Dugong, Edible Nest swiftlet, Gangetic river dolphin, Great Indian bustard, Hangul, Indian rhino or Great one-horned rhinoceros, Jerdon’s course, Malabar civet, Marine turtles, Nicobar megapode, Niligiri tahr, snow leopard, swamp deer and vultures.

Some environmental experts are miffed that India is not implementing the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) provisions of the National Biodiversity Act on a large scale.

India has made its commitments under Nagoya Protocol operational by including ABS in the Biodiversity Act.

ABS refers to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed by companies, researchers, and how the benefits from those resources can be shared with the local communities who conserve the resource.

“Unfortunately, there is no emphasis on sharing benefits of biological resources with communities. I don’t think any community has benefitted properly from this clause,” said Priyadarsanan Dharmarajan, a senior fellow at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE).

“Communities in India are dependent on biological resources. The government has to take this clause very seriously because extraction of biological resources will only rise,” said Dharmarajan.

The Uttarakhand High Court recently directed a company run by Yoga guru Ramdev to share a percentage of its profits with local farmers and communities under the ABS provision. The report lists only a couple of examples where benefits have been shared with communities.

In a press statement, the environment ministry on Saturday said India has been “investing a huge amount on biodiversity directly or indirectly through several development schemes of the Central and State Governments, to the tune of Rs.70,000 crore per annum as against the estimated annual requirement of nearly Rs. 1,09,000 crore.”

It added that India has two-third of wild tigers in the world. The population of lions has risen from 177 in 1968 to over 520 in 2015, and elephants from 12,000 in 1970s to 30,000 in 2015. One-horned Indian Rhino which was on the brink of extinction during the early 20th century, now number 2400. India is a party to CBD, whose signatories have to present national reports to the Conference of Parties (CoP) on a regular basis. The objective of the national reporting is to provide information on measures taken domestically to conserve biodiversity. (Hindustan Times)

A Spanish city Plans to Exile 5,000 pigeons to retain tourists —

Blue Rock pigeon - 6; pix SShukla; Chandigarh; October 2010 - CopyThe Spanish city of Cádiz will undertake what some may see as a Sisyphean task: relocating 5,000 pigeons hundreds of miles away after a complaint that the birds are driving away tourists from the terraces of cafes in the most visited part of the southern port city.

Carrier pigeons probably date back to ancient Persia. But under a plan announced in November 2018 by Cádiz officials, the pigeons themselves will be carried: This year they will be captured and transported to a thinly populated countryside location in eastern Spain. There, they will find a new home in a dovecote near the town of Ribarroja del Turia.

The exile solution to pigeon overcrowding is being presented as a more animal-friendly approach than that taken in other places, where pigeons are treated like flying rats to be culled or fed contraceptive pills that may also be consumed by other species.

The city will use “the most respectful and sustainable method” to keep its pigeon population under control, Álvaro de la Fuente, the city official in charge of environmental policy, said in a statement.

The city came up with the plan after Horeca, a regional federation of hoteliers, complained two years ago that the pigeons were menacing tourists, particularly in the city’s emblematic cathedral square.

“When the pigeon gets hungry, it can get very forceful and often doesn’t even wait for the tourists to leave their table to go for their food,” said Antonio De María Ceballos, a restaurant owner and the president of Horeca.

Horeca also argued that pigeon excrement presents a health risk for waiters and other employees who have to clean pigeon-occupied dining and drinking areas.

The risk, Mr. De María Ceballos said, was confirmed last year by a court ruling in Catalonia that upheld the disability claim of a Barcelona tourism official who said that she contracted pulmonary fibrosis from exposure to floating particles of bird excrement while working in pigeon-filled city squares.

“Nobody here has anything against pigeons or other animals, but something must be done when they proliferate to the point of presenting a health risk,” said Mr. De María Ceballos.

“Of course,” he added, “we want to avoid losing some revenues from tourists, but this issue is really about whether we believe it is important to keep Cádiz’s image as a clean and healthy city.”

The city hopes to carry out the relocation this year. The 5,000 or so pigeons will have to be trapped and undergo health checks before they are transported and released in eastern Spain, about 375 miles from Cádiz. The hope is that the highly adaptable rock pigeons will be happy to resettle there rather than be tempted to make the return flight.

Mr. de la Fuente, the city official, is also calling on residents to play their part and stop overfeeding pigeons.

He argued that fighting pigeon overpopulation can also helped avoid the spread of “other plagues like rodents.”

City Hall will distribute 3,000 leaflets about how to deal with pigeons, hoping to educate rather than fine its residents for overindulging the birds.

In London, under legislation adopted a decade ago, people risk a fine of as much as 500 pounds ($636) for feeding pigeons around Trafalgar Square. (The New York Times)

Hydro-power Project in Arunachal Pradesh Threatens Black-necked cranes —

Black-necked crane (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Black-necked crane (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a few decades, the glaciers that feed Himalayan rivers with water could have vanished, yet closed-minded planners are proceeding with eco-lethal plans for large hydropower projects that can benefit no one but the politicians, contractors and a pecking order of insensitive, short-term profit seekers.

About the Campaign

A remote, mountainous landscape in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, the Pangchen valley, is inhabited by unique wildlife, and the indigenous Buddhist community, the Monpa. Located near Zemithang in the Nyamjang chhu river basin, this area is part of the Zemithang-Nelya Important Bird Area. This site is a crucial wintering ground for the vulnerable Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) in addition to harbouring several biome-restricted species such as the Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota), the Himalayan Griffon or Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis) and the Satyr Tragopan, also known as Crimson horned pheasant (Tragopan satyra). Charismatic mammals like the snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala) and an appreciable population of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) occur here as well. Two Community Conserved Areas (CCA) – the Pangchen Muchat CCA and the Pangchen Schoktsen Lakhar CCA – have been declared by the Monpas. They consider the Black-necked Crane sacred, an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama and have undertaken the protection of this fragile ecosystem and its wildlife.

Threatening their efforts, and this entire landscape, is a 780 MW hydroelectric project on the Nyamjang Chhu River, which flows through the Pangchen valley. The proposed barrage near Zemithang and its submergence will destroy a three-kilometre long stretch of the river and its floodplain where the wintering of Black-necked Cranes takes place. This short stretch of habitat is not only of local, but national significance, since it is one of only two sites where Black-necked Cranes winter in India; the other site being the Sangti valley, which is also in Arunachal Pradesh. The cranes used to winter in Apatani valley in the state till the 1970s, but stopped visiting due to the development of large towns there. This example of the negative response of these birds to large-scale developmental activity needs to be treated as a warning for other mega projects sanctioned in the remaining wintering sites.

Far from acknowledging the threat this hydropower project would pose to wildlife, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, based on which the project was granted environmental clearance in April 2012, does not have a single mention of the impact on the Black-necked Cranes’ wintering habitat, the IBA and the two CCAs! The barrage, located near Zemithang, will divert the water of the Nyamjang Chhu River through a 23.5 km. long headrace tunnel (HRT) to a powerhouse located downstream, in the process bypassing around a 32 km. length of the river between the barrage and powerhouse. In the winter months, 80 per cent of the water will be diverted through the tunnels, thereby seriously compromising riverine ecology.

Project-affected people, the Save Mon Region Federation and Buddhist Lamas of Tawang have been opposing the 780 MW Nyamjang chhu project due to its socio-cultural and ecological impacts. The project was granted in-principle (Stage I) forest clearance in April 2012 and is awaiting final approval (Stage II) under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.  To protect the ecological and cultural heritage of the Pangchen valley, including the wintering grounds of the Black-necked Crane, it is essential that the 780 MW Nyamjang chhu project is scrapped by a refusal of the final forest clearance to the project. (Sanctuary Asia)

Two radio-tagged Amur falcons reach Somalia in five days —

Amur Falcon (male) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Amur Falcon (male) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Two satellite-tagged female Amur falcons, ‘Longleng’ and ‘Tamenglong’, named after two districts of Nagaland and Manipur, flew non-stop for five days to cover 5,700 km to reach a stop-over site in Somalia on 24 November 2018, said Wildlife Institute of India scientist (WII) R Suresh Kumar.

They were radio-tagged in the first week of November along with a male falcon as part of India’s first project to study the route of the long-distance migratory birds. The male falcon named Manipur was reportedly killed somewhere in Tamenglong district on November 9. Tamenglong started its non-stop migration on November 9 while Longleng started on November 19.

“Tamenglong reached Somalia around 1 pm (Indian time) on Saturday (November 24) while Longleng reached around 5 pm on Friday (November 23),” Kumar said. “They are likely to spend a few days in Somalia before embarking on their final journey to South Africa.”

The falcons spend their summers at their breeding grounds in southeast Russia and northeast China. They migrate to their wintering grounds in South Africa, from where they start their return journey in April-May through Afghanistan and East Asia, undertaking a yearly journey of about 20,000 km. In between, they stop in India’s northeast, where they have been killed in large numbers in recent years, and Somalia.

In their journey, these pigeon-sized birds arrive in large numbers during October in Nagaland and Manipur besides a few places in northeast India. They leave the region in November after having enough food for their non-stop flight to Africa where they spend their winters.

“They visit the northeast routinely because they know the availability of food in the region even though they pass through the Indian sub-continent during the journey,” Kumar said. “These birds feed on flying termites and insects etc.” Kumar said satellite tagging enables them to understand the birds and helps their conservation because through their migratory route they can study the environmental cues including wind pattern. The WII has radio-tagged 10 birds over the last five years. 

The information gained can also help raise international awareness about the species and promote falcon conservation, he added. Kumar applauded local communities in Nagaland and Manipur for their conservation effort to save falcons in recent years.

In case of Manipur, Rainforest Club Tamenglong and state forest department have been observing Amur Falcon festival in November annually since 2015 to spread awareness about the bird among the masses. (Hindustan Times)

Nature pushed to the brink by runaway consumption: WWF —

Palila is a critically endangered finch-billed species of Hawaiian honeycreeper

Palila is a critically endangered finch-billed species of Hawaiian honeycreeper

Unbridled consumption has decimated global wildlife, triggered a mass extinction and exhausted Earth’s capacity to accommodate humanity’s expanding appetites, conservation group WWF warned on 30 October 2018.

From 1970 to 2014, a total of 60 per cent of all animals with a backbone – fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals – were wiped out by human activity, according to WWF’s Living Planet report, based on an ongoing survey of more than 4,000 species spread over 16,700 populations scattered across the globe.

“The situation is really bad, and it keeps getting worse,” WWF International director-general Marco Lambertini told Agence France-Presse.

“The only good news is that we know exactly what is happening.”

For freshwater fauna, the decline in population over the 44 years monitored was 80 per cent. Regionally, Latin America was hit hardest, seeing a nearly 90 per cent loss of wildlife over the same period.

Another data set confirmed the depth of an unfolding mass extinction event, only the sixth in the last half-billion years.

Depending on which of Earth’s lifeforms are included, the current rate of species loss is 100 to 1,000 times higher than only a few hundred years ago, when people began to alter Earth’s chemistry and crowd other creatures out of existence.

Measured by weight, or biomass, wild animals today account for only 4 per cent of mammals on Earth, with humans (36 per cent) and livestock (60 per cent) making up the rest.

“The statistics are scary,” said researcher Piero Visconti at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, one of 59 co-authors of the report.

“Unlike population declines, extinctions are irreversible.”

For corals, it may be too late.

Back-to-back marine heatwaves have already wiped out up to half of the globe’s shallow-water reefs, which support a quarter of all marine life.

Even if humanity manages to cap global warming at 1.5 deg C, coral mortality will likely be 70 to 90 per cent. A 2 deg C rise would be a death sentence, a major United Nations report concluded this month.

The onslaught of hunting, shrinking habitat, pollution, illegal trade and climate change has been too much to overcome, Mr Lambertini said.

“It is the exponential growth over the last 50 years in the use of energy, water, timber, fish, food, fertiliser, pesticides, minerals, plastics – everything.”

“We need a new global deal for nature,” he added, noting two key ingredients in the 195-nation Paris climate treaty.

“One was the realisation that climate change was dangerous for the economy and society, not just polar bears,” Mr Lambertini said.

Similarly, he argued, threatened ecosystem services long taken for granted – drinkable water, breathable air, heat-absorbing oceans, forests that soak up carbon dioxide, productive soil – are worth tens of trillions of dollars every year.

“A healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life,” he said. (The Straits Times)

Mountain birds on the ‘escalator to extinction’ : claims study —

Researchers have long predicted many creatures will seek to escape a warmer world by moving towards higher ground.

Russet-crowned Warbler

Russet-crowned Warbler

However, those living at the highest levels cannot go any higher, and have been forecast to decline.

This study found that eight bird species that once lived near a Peruvian mountain peak have now disappeared.

Researchers are particularly concerned about tropical mountain ranges and the impacts of climate change.

“The tropical mountain areas are the hottest of biodiversity hotspots; they harbour more species than any other place on Earth,” lead author Dr Benjamin Freeman from the University of British Columbia told BBC News.

“It’s only got a little bit warmer in the tropics and tropical plants and animals seem to be living quite a bit higher now than they used to.”

The species that live in these regions are also hugely vulnerable because the difference in temperatures between lower and higher elevations in tropical regions is not as great as it is in other parts of the world. This means that moving up the slopes may not be as much of a solution for species in the tropics as it is elsewhere.

To test these ideas, scientists carried out a survey in 2017 of bird species that lived on a remote Peruvian mountain peak.

The team covered the same ground, at the same time of year, and used the same methods as a previous survey, carried out in 1985.

They found that on average, species’ ranges had shifted up the slope between the two surveys. Most of the species that had been found at the highest elevations declined significantly in both range and abundance.

The researchers say that recent warming constitutes an “escalator to extinction” for some of these species with temperatures in the area increasing by almost half a degree Celsius between the two surveys.

Of 16 species that were restricted to the very top of the ridge, eight had disappeared completely in the most recent survey.

“These birds have moved up the mountain as much as you’d predict if temperature was this master switch that controlled where they live,” said Dr Freeman.

“The ones that lived near the top 30 years ago are gone.”

The authors warn that rising temperatures will continue to drive widespread “extirpations and extinctions” of high-elevation animals and plants across the tropical Andes mountains.

In contrast, the scientists found that bird species living in lowland areas were benefitting from climate change, expanding their ranges, and shifting their upper limits further up the mountains.

However, even the species that are now on the move may find that they run out of options over time.

The authors say that if global temperatures rise this century between 2.6C and 4.8C, this could push tropical species a further 500m to 900m up the slopes. This might prove too far for some.

Another problem is that many mountains have been cleared of their forests, which limits the capacity of species to move up at all.

“You really can’t ignore this process if you are thinking of long-term biodiversity and conservation in these areas,” said Dr Freeman.

“The way to deal with it is to maintain protected habitat corridors that stretch across large elevational gradients.” (BBC News)


Endangered Himalayan vulture makes a comeback in Kinnaur —

Two Himalayan Griffon Vultures in Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre (JCBC) in Bir Shikargah in Pinjore (Haryana, India) before their release in the wild on 03 June 2016; (pix SShukla)

Two Himalayan Griffon Vultures in Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre (JCBC) in Bir Shikargah, Pinjore (Haryana, India) before their release in the wild on 03 June 2016; (pix SShukla)

Endangered Himalayan Griffon vulture (Gyps himalayensis), also known as Himalayan vulture, seems to have made a comeback in Himachal Pradesh. Bird watchers and wildlife experts have reported sighting the endangered bird in tribal Kinnaur district. The rare raptors were spotted at a reservoir across the Baspa river in Kinnaur district’s Sangla valley during a three-day birding event in Sangla Rakcham and Chitkul valley, organised by wildlife wing of the forest department.

“It was a different experience to spot endangered Himalayan Vulture in the tribal region. Vultures had almost disappeared from this region,” said chief conservator of forest (wildlife) Shushil Kapta.

Apart from Himalayan vultures, birders said they also spotted over 60 species of birds, including White-cheeked Nuthatch, Ferruginous Pochard, Bearded Vulture, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Sparrow hawk and Red-headed Bullfinch.

The objective of the three-day birding, which commenced on October 14, was to assess presence of different species of birds at the wildlife sanctuaries in tribal Kinnaur district.

The endangered vulture

This bird used to be found in abundance in the mountainous regions of south East Asia in Nepal, India, Afghanistan and Tibetan plateau. About two decades ago bird’s population declined drastically, wiping out 90 per cent of them. After research and observations by various experts Diclofenac, a veterinary drug used to treat cattle was found to be the real culprit for killing these birds.

Around ten years back, ornithologists across the world called for monitoring population of vultures, post which Himachal’s wildlife wing undertook a statewide study and found that the vulture population had declined.

Studies found that the exploitation of cheer pine forest was also impacting the breeding of vultures that use old dried trees for roosting and surveillance. Cheer trees are used for tapping resin. Vultures use needles and branches of pines for their nests.

“Vulture population had declined sharply but after department took up initiatives, it started to show results. The government had even set up vulture restaurants (feeding stations) in different places in Kangra,” Kapta said.

“The wildlife wing also encouraged locals and forest department to protect trees around nesting sites,” said Satpal Dhiman, joint secretary, forest.

The conservation programme, initiated in 2004, focused on monitoring of nests and enforcing ban on Diclofenac through conservation education alongside other strategies by involving local communities.

The wildlife wing had mapped more than 354 nests and about 374 fledging. (Hindustan Times)