Poaching The World Migratory Bird Day, which was observed on May 11, has brought the focus back on the issue of bird poaching. Many migratory birds and resident species are killed for meat every year. Hunting of migratory birds is one of the most pervasive threats to avian biodiversity in India. Its high occurrence and highly under-reported nature makes it a difficult one to tackle.
The word ‘migrant’ may bring to your mind people from elsewhere moving to a new place in search of work, home or food. To me, it evokes a picture of thousands of beautifully coloured forms flapping their wings relentlessly for days, flying high over seas and mountains bearing the hostile environment; a perfect example of teamwork and endurance. To escape the harsh winters back in their homeland, to find food in warmer places elsewhere, millions of birds undertake this arduous journey every year. When the earth freezes back in higher latitudes of Europe and Asia, the wetlands and forests of the Indian subcontinent come alive with colourful bird species.
A diverse guest list
Migrants come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Birds of prey such as eagles and falcons soar high in the skies; robins and thrushes fly to the forests and visitors like owls and nightjars enliven the nightlife of cold winters. Bustards from the Middle East, tiny warblers from Eurasia, long-legged flamingoes from Africa — India plays host to birds from many parts of the world.
Sharing space with the resident water birds, migrants like pintails, shovellers and garganeys flock the wetlands. Birds such as red-crested pochards and ruddy shelducks add a pop of colour to the otherwise monochromatic waters.
The next few months since their arrival is a happy time for bird enthusiasts and naturalists who travel to various places to enjoy the avian spectacle. One needs to look no further than the nearest lake or water body to witness the life of some of these migrants.
An unsafe passage
Many of us welcome these birds with enthusiasm, albeit with different motives. To some, they are pure visual delights; to others they make tasty culinary delights! Unfortunately, many migratory birds along with the resident species are killed for meat every year. Hunting of migratory birds is one of the most pervasive threats to avian biodiversity in India. It happens in our neighbouring lake, yet goes unnoticed. Its high occurrence and highly underreported nature makes it a difficult one to tackle.
Poaching of migratory birds happens at a much local scale. People kill birds mainly for meat, either for self-consumption or for sale in local markets. Killing a few birds is not considered a serious crime. Not many are aware of the laws of the land. Most bird species are protected under various schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The law strictly prohibits killing and trade in their body parts. Hunting entails imprisonment or fine or both. India is also a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). It is therefore our duty to conserve migratory species and their habitats, and draft and implement appropriate plans to provide them a safe passage. Unfortunately, such initiatives restrict themselves to paper and hardly translate to on-ground action.
It is as much our responsibility as the government’s to help restrict hunting. While it may seem hunting of birds happens in small numbers, the pervasive nature of it is clearly a worrying sign. Killing one or two birds per lake would still add up to thousands of them every year. The only hunting cases to reach the Forest Department or the media are the ones involving efficient officials or aware citizens. Like in the case of large-scale massacre of Amur falcons in Nagaland. About 12,000-14,000 Amur falcons were killed every day during their stopover in India. Such extensive killing could have been happening every year. Few lakhs may have been killed. Publicising the incident was crucial as it garnered international attention and brought back focus on the magnitude of hunting. Not to mention the significance of timely reporting!
Crowd sourcing for conservation
There is neither an integrated platform to address or report conservation issues nor is there clear documentation of hunting in the country. Except for a few isolated records, most incidents are not reported. The least one can do is to inform the nearest concerned police authorities or Forest Department officials. While the concerned authorities need to pull up their socks, it is equally our responsibility to help curb illegal hunting; going that extra mile by timely notifying the officials. For those who cannot spare time dealing with the officials, you can do your bit by sending in pictures of hunting/trapping to websites like www.conservationindia.org (a portal to enable conservation action) which provides credible information for conservation enthusiasts.
In a short period of time, crowd-sourced content on the website gathered shocking evidence of large-scale waterfowl slaughter across wetlands in India. Ramki Sreenivasan, the brain behind the website, says “Poaching of waterfowl is not rare or sporadic; it is mainstream and happening in our backyards. The problem is compounded since most of these wetlands aren’t ‘protected’ in the conventional sense and the Forest Department finds it difficult to control. Concerned birdwatchers are now reporting such incidents from multiple wetlands. But more of such reporting needs to happen, and we provide toolkits on CI for concerned citizens to take action.” He further adds that timely reporting and taking up the issue with higher authorities had helped nab the culprits on many an occasion.
The World Migratory Bird Day fell on the second weekend of May. The theme this year was “Networking for migratory birds”.
The theme, on one hand, highlighted the significance of interconnected sites to facilitate bird migration. On the other hand, it also called attention to the importance of collaboration among governments, organisations and individuals at all scales to conserve migratory birds. It is at the grassroots level at which all of us can make a difference. Next time you see people carrying, trapping, shooting and killing birds, please do not hesitate to call the nearest official.
In the least, grab your phone or camera, take a picture and share it with people and organisations already fighting against similar cause.