Category Archives: blog

Ban wildlife markets to avert pandemics, says UN biodiversity chief —

Seafood section of Sanqi Baihui Market, Hall-1 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Seafood section of Sanqi Baihui Market, Hall-1 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The United Nations’ biodiversity chief has called for a global ban on wildlife markets – such as the one in Wuhan, China, believed to be the starting point of the coronavirus outbreak – to prevent future pandemics.

Elizabeth Maruma Mremathe acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said countries should move to prevent future pandemics by banning “wet markets” that sell live and dead animals for human consumption, but cautioned against unintended consequences.

China has issued a temporary ban on wildlife markets where animals such as civets, live wolf pups and pangolins are kept alive in small cages while on sale, often in filthy conditions where they incubate diseases that can then spill into human populations. Many scientists have urged Beijing to make the ban permanent.

Using the examples of Ebola in west-central Africa and the Nipah virus in east Asia, Mrema said there were clear links between the destruction of nature and new human illnesses, but cautioned against a reactionary approach to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“The message we are getting is if we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us,” she told the Guardian.

“It would be good to ban the live animal markets as China has done and some countries. But we should also remember you have communities, particularly from low-income rural areas, particularly in Africa, which are dependent on wild animals to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people.

“So unless we get alternatives for these communities, there might be a danger of opening up illegal trade in wild animals which currently is already leading us to the brink of extinction for some species.

“We need to look at how we balance that and really close the hole of illegal trade in the future.”

As the coronavirus has spread around the world, there has been increased focus on how humanity’s destruction of nature creates conditions for new zoonotic illness to spread.

Jinfeng Zhou, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, called on authorities to make the ban on wildlife markets permanent, warning diseases such as Covid-19 would appear again.

“I agree there should be a global ban on wet markets, which will help a lot on wildlife conservation and protection of ourselves from improper contacts with wildlife,” Zhou said. “More than 70% of human diseases are from wildlife and many species are endangered by eating them.”

Mrema said she was optimistic that the world would take the consequences of the destruction of the natural world more seriously in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak when countries returned to negotiate the post-2020 framework for biodiversity, billed as the Paris agreement for nature.

“Preserving intact ecosystems and biodiversity will help us reduce the prevalence of some of these diseases. So the way we farm, the way we use the soils, the way we protect coastal ecosystems and the way we treat our forests will either wreck the future or help us live longer,” she said.

“We know in the late 1990s in Malaysia with the outbreak of Nipah virus, it is believed that the virus was a result of forest fires, deforestation and drought which had caused fruit bats, the natural carriers of the virus, to move from the forests into the peat farms. It infected the farmers, which infected other humans and that led to the spread of disease.

“Biodiversity loss is becoming a big driver in the emergence of some of these viruses. Large-scale deforestation, habitat degradation and fragmentation, agriculture intensification, our food system, trade in species and plants, anthropogenic climate change – all these are drivers of biodiversity loss and also drivers of new diseases. Two thirds of emerging infections and diseases now come from wildlife.”

In February, delegates from more than 140 countries met in Rome to respond for the first time to a draft 20-point agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, including proposals to protect almost a third of the world’s oceans and land and reduce pollution from plastic waste and excess nutrients by 50%.

A major summit to sign the agreement in October was scheduled in the Chinese city of Kunming but has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. (The Guardian)

Feather color is more than skin deep —

Common or Red Crossbills (Male) (CC BY-SA 3.0) (Elaine R. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com)

Common or Red Crossbills (Male) (CC BY-SA 3.0) (Elaine R. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com)

Where do birds get their red feathers from? According to Esther del Val, from the National History Museum in Barcelona, Spain, and her team, the red carotenoids that give the common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) its red coloration are produced in the liver, not the skin, as previously thought. Their findings, published online in Springer’s journal Naturwissenschaften, have implications for understanding the evolution of color signaling in bird species.

Carotenoids have important physiological functions, including antioxidant, immunomodulating, and photoprotectant properties. Carotenoid pigments are also used by many bird species as colorants, and are responsible for most of their red, orange and yellow coloration. In particular, carotenoid-red coloration in birds has been shown to act as an ornament, signaling the nutritional and health status of the individual and its ability to locate high quality resources. Recent studies have suggested that the transformation of carotenoid pigments takes place directly in the follicles during feather growth.

Del Val and her team show for the first time that, contrary to previous assumptions, the liver acts as the main site for the synthesis of carotenoids responsible for the birds’ coloration, not the skin.

The researchers examined the carotenoid content of the liver, blood, skin and feathers of seven common crossbills (finches) in which adult males display carotenoid-based coloration on the throat, breast and rump. They were particularly interested in the anatomical origin of the birds’ red plumage. They found the primary red feather pigment of male crossbills in the birds’ liver and blood, implying that the carotenoids are synthesized in the liver and then travel to the peripheral tissues via the bloodstream. 

Del Val concludes: “This surprising divergence with previous studies raises the question whether there are inter-specific differences in anatomical sites for conversion of carotenoids. Understanding inter-specific variation in mechanisms of color production may be the key to comprehend the different evolutionary pathways involved in color signaling.” (Phys.org)

Birds see many more colors than humans can —

Peacock      (Representative Image)

Peacock               (Representative Image)

The brilliant colors of birds have inspired poets and nature lovers, but researchers at Yale University and the University of Cambridge say these existing hues represent only a fraction of what birds are capable of seeing.

The findings based on study of the avian visual system, reported in the journal Behavioral Ecology, show that over millions of years of evolution plumage colours went from dull to bright as birds gradually acquired the ability to create newer pigments and structural colors.

“Our clothes were pretty drab before the invention of aniline dyes, but then color became cheap and there was an explosion in the colorful clothes we wear today,” said Richard Prum, chair and the William Robertson Coe Professor in the Department of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and co-author of the paper. “The same type of thing seemed to have happened with birds.”

Scientists have speculated for years on how birds obtained their colors, but the Yale/Cambridge study was the first to ask what the diversity of bird colors actually look like to birds themselves. Ironically, the answer is that birds see many more colors than humans can, but birds are also capable of seeing many more colors than they have in their plumage. Birds have additional color cones in their retina that are sensitive to ultraviolet range so they see colors that are invisible to humans.

Over time, birds have evolved a dazzling combination of colors that included various melanin pigments, which give human skin its tint, carotenoid pigments, which come from their diets, and structural colors, like the blue eyes of humans. The study shows that the structural colors produce the lion’s share of color diversity to bird feathers, even though they are relatively rare among birds.

Co-author Mary Caswell Stoddard of Cambridge, who began investigating the avian visual system as an undergraduate at Yale, would like to know why birds have not yet developed the ability to produce, for example, ultraviolet yellow or red colors in their feathers — colors invisible to humans but visible to the birds themselves.

“We don’t know why plumage colors are confined to this subset,” Stoddard said. “The out of gamut colors may be impossible to make with available mechanisms or they may be disadvantageous.”

“That doesn’t mean that birds’ color palette might not eventually evolve to expand into new colors,” Prum said.

“Birds can make only about 26 to 30 percent of the colors they are capable of seeing but they have been working hard over millions of years to overcome these limitations,” Prum said. “The startling thing to realize is that although the colors of birds look so incredibly diverse and beautiful to us, we are color blind compared to birds.” (Phys.org)

Infidelity pays off for female Gouldian finches —

Red-headed Gouldian finch (Copyright Marc Gardner 2019)

Red-headed Gouldian finch (Copyright Marc Gardner 2019)

Females in socially monogamous bird species such as finches often engage in sexual activities with birds outside the pair bond. This is known to benefit males if they produce more offspring, but until now the benefits to the female have been unknown.

Biologists Sarah Pryke, Lee Rollins and Simon Griffith from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, studied the behavior of Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) in the wild and in captivity to try and find out why females are so willing to be unfaithful to their mates even though if discovered with another male the partner is likely to abandon or reduce his half of the care of the offspring. The males are actively involved both in incubating eggs and finding food for the chicks.

With the captive birds Pryke and colleagues separated bond pairs during the mating season by removing the male from for half an hour. While he was absent from the cage they introduced a virgin male, and within a few minutes the male began making advances to the female, and the female responded.

There are three genetic variations determining head color in Gouldian finches: one producing a red head, one black, and the other yellow. Black and red-headed birds are genetically incompatible and interbreeding of the two types can produce offspring with low genetic fitness, so the researchers tried various combinations of bird with different head colors. The color of their heads also enabled them to tell which male had fathered the offspring.

The scientists also studied the behavior of wild Goudian finches in northern Australia. They are found in tropical areas of northern parts of Western Australia and Queensland, and in the Northern Territory. The Gouldians were once among the most common finches, but are now listed as endangered.

The results of the research indicated that if a female mated with a genetically compatible male he could fertilize up to 75 percent of the eggs. Dr Griffith said the female finch seems to be capable of selecting genetically good sperm somehow, to maximize the chances of healthy offspring, adding that “one copulation with good sperm is better than 30 copulations with bad sperm.”

The research implies that it would pay most females to be unfaithful at times to insure against infertility or genetic incompatibility in their partners.

The next stage of the research will try to determine if the female finch is able to distinguish genetic compatibility in sperm, perhaps by some immune response, or if the more compatible sperm is simply able to penetrate the egg more effectively.

The results are published in the journal Science. (Phys.org)

Birdwatchers highlight declines of seabirds off south-eastern Australia —

Thirteen species of seabirds are declining off the coast of south-eastern Australia, a 17-year study by researchers at the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney revealed.

Thirteen species of seabirds are declining off the coast of south-eastern Australia, a 17-year study by researchers at the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney revealed. The species include iconic and globally threatened birds such as the enormous Wandering Albatross, as well as locally breeding Flesh-footed Shearwater.

Working with data collected by seabird enthusiasts of the Southern Ocean Seabird Study Association, who regularly take boat trips out to sea from Port Stephens, Sydney and Wollongong, the scientists found that almost half of the 30 most commonly observed seabird species in the region had declined over the 17-year period from 2000 to 2016. The study is published in the latest issue of the international scientific journal, Biological Conservation.

“Seabirds are critically important organisms for maintaining the health of marine ecosystems,” says lead author and UNSW Science Honours student Simon Gorta.

“They act as apex predators, feeding on a range of prey such as plankton, squid, fish and carcasses across the world’s oceans.

Wandering albatross

Wandering albatross

“Our findings are worrying, not just because thirteen of our more common species are declining, but because we don’t know for sure what is driving these declines.”

While the exact mechanisms are unknown, the researchers suggest that warming ocean temperatures are likely to be contributing to this trend. The East Australian Current has strengthened off south-eastern Australia, which has led to warmer and less productive waters in the region, potentially driving birds to forage elsewhere, as the marine habitat in this region is no longer suitable for them.

“We can predict that as surface temperatures increase with climate change, we will be seeing fewer species that prefer cooler-than-average surface temperatures. The most dramatic example of this was in summer species—Pomarine and Arctic Jaegers—which showed this surface temperature preference and consistently declined in the region over the 17-year study period,” Mr Gorta says.

Worryingly, many other species may also be declining. This is supported by declines in breeding populations of seabirds, linked to a number of threats globally. The researchers say that determining the exact causes of these declines should be a priority.

“Seabirds are the most threatened group of birds on the planet, with roughly 30% of them listed on the IUCN Red List as at risk of extinction,” says co-author Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science.

“They are threatened where they forage at sea, and where they breed, from commercial fishing and pollution at sea, as well as habitat degradation and introduced predators such as rats at breeding sites.”

Relatively little is known about seabirds away from their breeding grounds, as most research efforts are focused on protecting the species at these sites. The researchers identified a clever solution to this by analysing a citizen science dataset, collected by passionate birdwatchers who go on birdwatching trips or “pelagics” out to sea, looking for seabirds almost every month of the year.

“These types of at-sea observations of seabirds are difficult to come by, so we relied on a unique dataset, collated from birdwatchers’ observations. These datasets are just sitting around from all over the world—waiting to be fully dusted off and used to investigate broader patterns which go well beyond usual three-year funding cycles,” says senior author Corey Callaghan, Ph.D. student at UNSW.

These pelagic seabirds occur in coastal and shelf waters off the coast of every continent except Antarctica, and observations from these trips offer a different, and important insight into the behaviour of seabirds, only otherwise attainable by using expensive tracking equipment on a few individuals.

“These observations inform real and informative trends of great importance to marine ecosystem management and conservation, and they do so through the engagement of the general public. It is important that everyone, not just the researchers, know what is going on in our oceans, because we depend on them, yet they are degrading before our eyes,” says Mr Gorta.

“These issues must be addressed in order to halt the long-term declines of seabirds.”  (Phys.org)

Great Indian bustard, Bengal floricans, little bustards and antipodean albatrosses among 10 new species added to global wildlife agreement —

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

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

Great Indian bustards, Asian elephants and jaguars were among 10 new species added to a global wildlife agreement on Saturday (22 February 2020). The Thirteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP13) concluded in Gandhinagar, India, with resolutions and decisions adopted to help conserve migratory species globally. 

“With COP13, the important role of CMS in protecting nature around the world has been strongly embraced”, affirmed CMS Executive Secretary Amy.

In addition to Asian elephants, jaguars and great Indian bustards, all slated to receive the strictest protection under Appendix I, Bengal floricans, little bustards, antipodean albatrosses and oceanic white-tip sharks also made the cut.  

Meanwhile urials along with smooth hammerhead and tope sharks were listed as migratory species that would benefit from enhanced international cooperation and conservation actions. 

Moreover, 14 species were targeted for newly agreed upon conservation plans.

“CMS is uniquely positioned to address the conservation of migratory species and their habitats, and to contribute to reversing the trends of species and biodiversity loss worldwide”, Ms. Fraenkel said.

Gandhinagar Declaration

Maintaining and restoring ecological connectivity is a top CMS priority, especially in managing migratory species and their habitats – as evidenced by the newly adopted Gandhinagar Declaration, which was affirmed by 130 party countries.

The Declaration calls for migratory species and the concept of “ecological connectivity” to be integrated and prioritized in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which is expected to be adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference in October.

Declining migratory species

The first-ever report on the Status of Migratory Species was presented at the conference.

In highlighting that the populations of most CMS-covered migratory species are declining, COP13 agreed that a more comprehensive review be undertaken to understand the status of individual species and the threats they face.

“The initial status report has been a real wake up call for the Convention, and Parties recognized, the importance of a more thorough analysis. CMS COP13 has given a clear mandate to prepare a flagship report on the status of migratory species which will give us a better idea of what is happening on the ground, and also provide a much needed tool for understanding where we need to focus our work,”  the CMS chief said. 

And the conference agreed on a number of cross-cutting policy measures to address threats to migratory species, such as integrating biodiversity and migratory species considerations into national energy and climate policy and promote wildlife-friendly renewable energy.

Indian hosts

During the conference, the first CMS COP to be inaugurated by a host-country Head of Government, three CMS Ambassadors were named, seven Migratory Species Champions were recognized and two sets of commemorative stamps were issued. 

In his opening address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to focus on the conservation of migratory birds along the Central Asian Flyway, and announced the establishment of an institutional research facility for the conservation of migratory birds and marine turtles, the reduction of pollution from micro-plastic and single-use plastic, and other things.  

As COP13 host, India will assume the role of COP Presidency for the next three years.

“The spirit of ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’… will now resonate from Gandhinagar into the world: Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home!”, concluded Executive Secretary Fraenkel. (UN News)

India to propose names of 10 more wetlands for recognition under Ramsar Convention —

Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, Haryana (Author - Ekabhishek) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, Haryana (Author – Ekabhishek) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The government of India will propose names of 10 more Indian wetlands, including two from Haryana, to be declared as sites of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

The two wetlands in bird sanctuaries Sultanpur and Bhindawas in Haryana have never been considered before.

The names of the wetlands will be submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat at the ongoing 13th Conference of Parties to the Convention of Migratory Species and Wild Animals (CMS COP 13) being held at Gandhinagar.

Wetlands declared as Ramsar sites are protected under strict guidelines. If the proposal to include 10 new wetlands is approved by the Ramsar Secretariat, India will have 47 sites protected internationally.

“We are working on declaring 10 more sites as Ramsar sites and in the process are trying to bring more areas under the Ramsar site conservation plan. A combined proposal is being sent to the Ramsar Secretariat,” an Environment Ministry official said.

There are over 170 countries party to the Ramsar Convention and over 2,000 designated sites covering over 20 crore hectares have been recognized under it.

“The new wetlands being proposed for inclusion are – Lonar from Maharashtra which is a unique wetland and the only crater lake in the country, a site from Bihar-Kanwar lake, two sites from Haryana which doesn’t have a Ramsar site till now -Sultanpur and Bhindawas.

“Uttarakhand also has sent a proposal for its first Ramsar site-Asan and the rest are from Uttar Pradesh,” said the ministry official.

The Convention, signed in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, is one of the oldest inter-governmental accord for preserving ecological character of wetlands. Also known as the Convention on Wetlands, it aims to develop a global network of wetlands for conservation of biological diversity and for sustaining human life.

In January this year, 10 wetlands in India were recognized by the Ramsar Convention as sites of international importance which are Nandur Madhameshwar in Maharashtra, Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve and Nangal in Punjab.

Six sites from Uttar Pradesh were declared as Ramsar sites which are Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and SarsaiNawar.

The other Ramsar sites are in Rajasthan, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh.

Wetlands provide a wide range of important resources and ecosystem services such as food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood moderation, erosion control and climate regulation. (PTI)

India calls for inclusion of 3 species in conservation list —

Bengal Florican (Author - Nejib Ahmed) (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Bengal Florican (Author – Nejib Ahmed) (CC BY-SA 4.0)

India proposed on 20 February 2020 to include three animals – the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), Asian Elephant, and the Bengal Florican – in the conservation of migratory species of wild animals (CMS) appendix 1 at the ongoing thirteenth Conference of Parties (COP-13) in Gandhinagar.

This inclusion will ensure international protection to these species across their range or all the countries they visit during the seasonal migration. The appendix-I lists species that are under threat of extinction either across its migration range or in some of the countries.

“The inclusion in the appendix-I would mean that these animals will now get international protection. All countries that are parties to the convention and are in the range of these three animals will now have to prepare their own conservation plan,” said Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife).

“All the three species are included in the schedule of our Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, ensuring legal protection, but we do not know about the conservation status of these animals in the other range countries,” he added.

The convention, however, does not have a mechanism to ensure implementation of its decisions.

The GIB, which was selected as the mascot for COP-13, is categorised as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The GIB is one of the largest flying birds in the world and has a population of only about 100-150, which is largely restricted to Rajasthan’s Thar Desert.

Some GIBs, however, cross over to Pakistan, where they are hunted with impunity. Collision with power lines is the other major threat it faces, with its population having declined by 90% over the last 50 years.

“Pakistan is also a party to the convention and will have to come up with a conservation plan for the GIB,” said Dasgupta.

The Asian Elephant, which is India’s heritage animal, freely travels to neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. The animal is under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, human elephant conflict, poaching and illegal trade. Around 75 elephants died due to train accident, electrocution, poaching and poisoning in India in 2018.

Even as India has backed the inclusion of the animal for international protection, the elephant corridors do not have legal protection under the wildlife protection Act. “Habitat protection is important for conservation of the species. Inclusion of the elephant habitat might happen under the act,” Dasgupta said.

The Bengal Florican is also a critically endangered species. They live in open tall grasslands and have trans-boundary migration pattern between India and Nepal, where they face threat of collision with power transmission lines. (Hindustan Times)

Poaching biggest threat to migratory species : CMS Report —

Oriental Honey-buzzard; (pix SShukla)

Oriental Honey-buzzard; (pix SShukla)

The biggest threat for migratory species at risk of extinction are hunting, poaching, persecution and control, according to a new report released at the thirteenth conference of parties (COP-13) on conservation of migratory species (CMS) of wild animals in Gandhinagar.

The preliminary assessment showed that 96% of all the species listed under Appendix 1 of the CMS face these threats. Of all the 173 species included in the appendix, 98% of the mammals, 94% of the birds and 100% of the reptiles and fish, respectively, are facing extinction because of hunting and poaching, the report showed.

The Great Indian Bustard, the mascot for the COP-13 event, has seen a 90% decline in population since 1969 amid widespread poaching in neighbouring Pakistan.

The CMS has never before worked on a report to evaluate the conservation status of migratory animals. COP-13 is pushing for greater budgetary allocation for a study of the population trends and the challenges faced by species threatened by extinction. “Though demand for elephant tusks have been known, now elephant skin and beads are being traded as well. Asian elephants need to be protected especially after the pachyderms cross into Nepal and Bangladesh,” said Dipankar Ghose, director, species and landscape at Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“An initial status report of migratory species showed that over 70% of the species on Appendix 1 are declining along with habitat loss. We need funds to prepare a flagship report on the status of migratory species,” said Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary, CMS.

Rapid decline in India’s raptor population

The population of raptors — a group of preying birds — is declining, according to the State of India’s Birds 2020. The report was released at the 13th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nation Environment Program’s (UNEP) Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals’ (CMS). The report included scavengers such as vultures in the category. Raptors, typically vertebrates, are high on the food chain — like mammalian carnivores such as tigers. They are also often sensitive to environmental changes. The population of those raptors whose habitats are specialised can decline if such habitats are degraded or lost. Some species may respond to toxin bioaccumulation.

 According to the report:

Generalist species (which occupy a range of habitats, including human habitats), and woodland species appear to have suffered the least declines in the long term. However, all woodland species, and white-eyed Buzzard and Common Kestrel among generalists, continue to decline, but possibly at a lower rate than earlier. In contrast, open country specialists show a particularly strong decline both in the long term and currently, although Black-winged Kite and Western Marsh Harrier show trends that are roughly stable in the long term. Finally, as is known from other evidence, scavengers (mostly vultures) have been in severe decline over the past 25+ years.

Water birds have also been on the decline, according to the report. These species are sensitive to changes in water, vegetation and the substrate quality of their habitats. The group has faced a long-term decline. But “migratory shorebirds and gulls and terns appear to have declined the most, although waterfowl (ducks & geese) and other resident water birds (like swamphens, coots and storks) also show clearly discernible declines,” the report added.

It couldn’t pinpoint “whether these declines are due to changing conditions at breeding, staging or wintering sites (or all three).” Among habitat specialists, forest species have suffered the most, followed by grassland / scrubland species and wetland species. The report, however, attributed the decline to reasons other than habitat change, saying the species have great habitat flexibility.

Rajah Jayapal, senior principal scientist at Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, said such declining numbers have had a link with urbanisation. “For example, the population of common birds such as the house sparrow has declined in urban areas. However, in rural areas, their population is stable,” Jayapal, a contributor to the report, said. The report looked into the status of 867 bird species, using data uploaded by birdwatchers to the online ‘eBird’ platform. The assessment was based on three indices, two of which measured any change in abundance and the third the distribution.

Of the 261 species for which long-term trends (for about a quarter of a century) could be determined, the population of 52 per cent have declined since 2000. The declines were strong among 22 per cent. Only 5 per cent showed an increasing trend.  Current annual trends were estimated for 146 species and nearly 80 per cent of their populations were declining, with almost 50 per cent declining strongly. A little over 6 per cent were stable and 14 per cent increasing.

The range size of all but six species was estimated: While 46 per cent had moderate range sizes, a third large or very large, and 21 per cent restricted or very restricted sizes. The population of 126 species were either stable or increasing, according to the report. These include the popular House Sparrow, as well as the Indian Peafowl, Asian Koel, Rose-ringed Parakeet and Common Tailorbird. (Hindustan Times & DownToEarth)

Mull underground power cables to save great Indian bustard, SC tells Rajasthan

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

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

Coming to the rescue of endangered birds – the great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) and the lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus), which are dying in large numbers due to collisions with high-voltage power lines, the Supreme Court of India on 18 February 2020 asked the Indian state of Rajasthan to consider laying underground cables.

The top court said they are large birds and it is difficult for them to maneuver due to the high-tension power lines which obstruct their flight paths.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) shared the concern of the court and said that there is no other option but to lay power cables underground to protect the great Indian bustard (GIB) and lesser florican (LF).

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant asked senior advocate Manish Singhvi, appearing for the Rajasthan government, to take instructions from the competent authority for laying of cables underground.

“It appears that one of the dangers is the presence of power lines, which obstruct the flight path of the of GIB. It is well known that the GIB is a larger bird and it is difficult for it to maneuver easily in its flight. One of the solutions suggested to avoid any collision in its flight path is that the over-head wires be laid down underground”.

It asked Singhvi to take instructions within two weeks and apprise the court about the manner in which the power lines could be laid down underground.

At the outset, the top court said that the state government can look into modifying the contract of private companies for laying down the cables underground.

“This is a larger bird which fly in a particular direction. To avoid power lines coming in the direction of flight path of the bird, it would be appropriate if they are laid down underground. Necessary changes can be made in the contract with the private companies for laying down underground cables,” the bench said.

With regard to LF, the top court said it is not disputed that the bird is also endangered and disturbed largely by the power generation plants.

The top court said that if the Rajasthan government faces any problem, then the court can pass necessary directions.

Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, appearing for MoEF said a team of the ministry and other wildlife experts have visited Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and it is evident from their findings that underground cable is the only solution.

Advocates Sugandha Yadav, Shatadru Chakraborty and Sonia Dube, appearing for Petitioner M K Ranjitsinh — a retired IAS officer, said that they have prepared terms of reference for the top court appointed panel, which could be looked into for conservation for GIB and LF.

The top court asked the MoEF to look into the terms of reference and file an affidavit in this regard.

The Counsel for the petitioner suggested names of three experts — Sutirtha Dutta (scientist), Thulsi Rao, Director, Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (APSBB) and Samad Kottur, a lecturer in government college in Karnataka — to be included in the panel appointed by the apex court as they deal largely with LF.

The top court accepted the suggestion while directing for inclusion of the three experts in the panel and posted the matter for further hearing after two weeks.

On July 15 last year, the court had taken serious note of alarming extinction of the GIB and the LF and constituted a high powered committee to urgently frame and implement an emergency response plan for the protection of these species.

It had constituted a 3-member panel comprising Director of Bombay Natural History Society; Asad R Rahmani, former Director of Bombay Natural History Society and Dhananjai Mohan, Chief Conservator of Forests of Uttarakhand.

It had sought responses from the Centre and state governments where these two species of birds are prominently found, on a plea of wildlife activists.

Ranjitsinh and others had sought the court’s directions for an urgent emergency response plan to protect and recovery of both the bird species.

Ranjitsinh, who has served as the director of Wildlife Protection, has contended in his plea that over the last 50 years the population of the GIB has recorded a decline of over 82 per cent, falling from an estimated 1,260 in 1969, to 100-150 in 2018.

“The population of the Lesser Florican (also known as the likh or kharmore) has seen a sharp decline of 80 per cent over the past few decades, from 3530 individuals recorded in 1999, to less than 700 individuals in 2018,” the plea said.

It added that both the birds are protected under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 but despite being accorded the highest level of protection under national law, the birds face the threat of imminent extinction.

The plea blamed various reasons for the threats faced by the two endangered birds including — mortality by collision with infrastructure, particularly power lines and wind turbines, depletion of grasslands, hunting, development of mines and human habitation in and around their habitats and ingestion of pesticides. (Press Trust of India)