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Silent Sufferers.

Byline: Muhammad Omar Iftikhar

Wildlife in Nepal holds global prominence. Mammals, including the Bengal Fox, Clouded Leopard, reptiles such as Pit Vipers and Monitor Lizards and a large number of birds, aquatic fauna and invertebrates comprise Nepal's wildlife. This feature also attracts tourists to Nepal throughout the year. They travel to various parts of the country, especially Kathmandu. However, recent reports suggest that the number of birds in Nepal and in the Kathmandu Valley is declining. This is a concern especially when the country is known for the migratory birds that fly to Nepal from Siberia and the indigenous birds that have been residing in various wildlife reserves across the country.

While ornithologists are disturbed over the ecological impact of such a decline in the number of birds, the main cause roots back to the human desire for encroachment. Moreover, agrochemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides are also a reason for this reduction. When sprayed in farms and fields, the chemicals kill insects, which is food for birds. "There is a direct correlation between the increase in pesticide use and the decrease in the number of birds in a neighbourhood," says Jyotendra Thakuri of Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN). Over 880 species of birds are found in Nepal with almost 520 or more found in the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, a protected area in eastern Nepal.

Since it was imperative to count the number of bird species in Nepal, Wetlands International initiated a program, in 1987 under which bird species were counted and recorded. This helped the country to know the number of bird species that migrate to Nepal during the winter. When the census of 2018 was carried out from January 6 to 22, the numbers were a bit distressing. The initial findings and results showed that although the number of water birds has declined in Nepal, their species count has also fallen. Counting birds is also a tedious process and needs focus and time to complete. Nearly 300 volunteers take part in this bird counting activity that spreads across the banks of the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve.

The volunteers also visit over 50 protected water bodies and wetlands situated across Nepal. These volunteers also record areas where illegal hunting is carried out and where human life has destroyed the natural habitat. According to bird enumerator, Samjhana Karki, "Koshi Tappu is really special because nowhere else in Nepal do you see such a large variety of birds in such a small place." Hem Sagar Baral, ornithologist and coordinator of Wetlands International, Nepal said, "Counting the birds at one go all over the world is more accurate. The reason for the declining number is mostly human encroachment into wetlands and riverbanks. If this trend continues, the birds from Siberia will just fly on to India without stopping here."

He further said that "Each one of the water-dependent bird species, both indigenous and migratory, is declining steadily in Nepal. In fact, one in every five birds in Nepal is listed as a threatened species, compared to one in every eight globally." Apart from pesticides, the changing human lifestyle is also to be blamed. Gone are the days when humans in many parts of Nepal would construct houses from bricks in which sparrows would create holes and make the houses their abode. Now that concrete buildings have almost replaced brick buildings, birds cannot create holes in such buildings. Concerned authorities and the government in Nepal must ensure that farmers do not overuse such chemicals.

Killing insects is important to save crops; the authorities in Nepal should limit human encroachments in areas in close proximity to wildlife havens. Furthermore, the government must implement stricter laws about where and when human populations can make such encroachments. Illegal hunting should also be monitored and those involved must be punished. While conducting research in India to find patterns of bird migration, it was observed that areas housing mobile phone towers had a lesser population of sparrows. This led to the conclusion that sparrows tend to live away from electromagnetic radiation. Furthermore, the rise in the number of crows in Kathmandu has also led to the decline in overall bird population.

Because of garbage dumps spread across Kathmandu and wastewater not being managed properly, crows find these areas as their safe havens. As crows hunt young bird species, the number of birds decline since crows have a natural tendency to command the urban ecology. Instead of sending volunteers to count the species of birds, Nepal must use scientific measures to collect data on the number of indigenous birds and migratory birds. With over a hundred birds already added to the nationally threatened list, Nepal must renovate and overhaul its wildlife reserves and improve the quality and conditions of its lakes, rivers and water bodies that act as stopovers for migratory birds.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Apr 6, 2018
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