US bombing in Afghanistan: death knell for Siberian Crane?

Tens of thousands of wetland birds head south from central Asia through Afghanistan to winter in Pakistan at this time every year. They are the prey of the cameras of hundreds of ornithologists from around the world every year. This year, however, is worryingly different.

Experts are confused as to the reasons for the sudden disappearance of the birds. Where there were many thousands, there are none. Pakistani specialist Dr. Masoud Anwar describes the occurrence as a conservation disaster, since he is trying to set up a conservation area of bio-diversity in Pakistan. “If there are no birds, we cannot go for the conservation”, he declared.

Ornithologist Oumed Haneed, of Pakistan’s National Council for Conservation of Wildlife, explains his theory behind the absence of the birds this year. “One impact may be directly the killing of birds through bombing, poisoning of the wetlands or the sites which these birds are using”. He added: “Another impact may be these birds are derouted, because their migration is very precise. They migrate in a corridor and if they are disturbed through bombing, they may change their route”.

For the Siberian Crane, already an enlisted endangered species, the absence of sightings of groups of more than three so far this year means for Asheik Ahmed Khan of the Worldwide Fund for Nature that “something is happening, somewhere”. Normally there would have been sightings of groups of birds numbering between 50 and 60.

For a species in a situation as precarious as the Siberian Crane, recovery from such reduced numbers may be impossible. This being the case, it will be the first victim on the growing list of extinct species in 2002. Happy New Year!


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