When the Siberian Cranes started their winter migration flocking in V-shaped formation, they must have been rather fat and in between there would have been stopovers to refuel. But today they don’t flock to India anymore; the last time they were sighted in Bharatpur National Park of Rajasthan was in 2001. The unfortunate reality is that they won’t be seen again in the country as they are now extinct. During their journey towards India they would halt for a while in Afghanistan, where they were hunted in large number and thus the number reduced significantly.
There is a need to highlight the significant interdependence between humans and wildlife on this planet, and this entails the understanding that ensuring our future also means theirs as well. The call becomes more earnest with the realisation that the human-induced damages not only have negative impact on birds, but also on us. Our commitment towards wildlife conservation is a manifestation of how sincere we are in our attempts to undo or mitigate the damage.
Pollution in the forms of noise, air, water and light and destruction in the nature of deforestation have direct negative impact on migratory bird species. Noise pollution can render them, which vocalise in lower frequencies, unable to communicate while migrating. Similar disruption is caused by light pollution; as they rely on stars to determine the route of their journey, and the light pollution caused by cities confuse them and even make them disoriented.
Similarly, noise and air pollution can force them to cancel their journey or to reroute it. But the worse is for those which are directly exposed to water pollution. Leakage of pesticides and industrial waste into rivers, lakes and oceans reduces the levels of oxygen in the water and makes it inhabitable for fish; and this disrupted ecosystem leaves water birds, which feed on fish, highly vulnerable. Delhi is home to almost 250 species of migratory birds, because of climate change and break in food chain, owing to high-level pollution, wildlife experts fear that migratory birds will be forced to migrate to other parts of the world. The fact that the greater flamingo and the great white pelican have stopped visiting the national capital serves as one grim instance.
The picture is grimmer when oil spill happens in the ocean. Birds’ feathers naturally provide a protection, but when coated in oil they lose the protection, causing them to stick together. Any attempt to clean their feathers means ingesting the oil which can only cause death and illness. Additionally, large scale deforestation in other words mean loss of habitats or the habitats being degraded.
In this backdrop, it is necessary that we view the issues as all interconnected: those human-induced damages be directly linked to the changing migratory patterns of birds. Think of the days when birds have ceased to migrate; their food poisoned; they can no longer have a stopover to refuel during the course of journey; their population dwindled; we cannot treat the issues irrelevant since we are in a common home called earth.
In 2010, when British Petroleum undersea oil well explode in the Gulf of Mexico, what followed was one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of America. Millions of gallons oil spewed from the ocean floor 5,000 ft beneath the ocean surface. Public criticism of the company rose as birds, fish and shrimp died and thick brown oil washed ashore. This also shut down the fishing and tourism businesses.
To raise awareness about these grave issues World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is celebrated every year on May 10. The theme, linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, this year is “Their Future is our Future – A Healthy Planet for Migratory Birds and People”. The campaign concentrates on two prominent threats to migratory birds: habitat loss and overharvesting.
India’s initiatives to raise the awareness have certainly gained momentum, but more effort is required. This could even mean public private partnership or civil society-corporate partnership. Under their corporate social responsibility, corporations like Sony India and Tata Capital Housing Finance Ltd, to mention some, signed up with WWF India to protect the endangered wildlife species in India. Animal welfare did not figure in the Companies Act of 2013 until 2014; the government revised its policy after receiving feedback from several animal welfare organizations.
It is hoped that with more awareness and well-designed initiatives, our planet becomes an evenly-shared home where the homes or the habitats are protected and conserved to create a habitable ecosystem. Achieving this means making the earth a better place for all, and failing to do so can only doom a common fate to which all are tied.
N Bobo Meitei
Executive Editor, Fiinovation