The wetlands of Kashmir have received around eight lakh migratory birds from across the world, however, poaching and shrinking of water bodies continue to pose a big challenge to the future of these wetlands.
As per current official estimates at the wildlife department, over 8 lakh migratory birds mainly Mallards, Coots, Little Grebe, Grey Lake Goose, Pintail and Local Moorhen have landed at different wetlands this season.
The final census of these migratory birds is conducted at the end of February – a month before the birds return to their homelands.
The major chunk of migratory birds visiting Kashmir through the Central Asia flyway zone including – Siberia, China and Japan.
The Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir, Rashid Yahya Naqash, while commemorating World Wetlands Day said that around eight lakh migratory birds have visited Kashmir this season that include 3.50 lakh birds in Hokersar and 4.50 lakh birds in Haigam, Shalibugh, Mirgund, and Chatalam wetlands.
“The Wildlife Protection department has also started a strong campaign about the importance of wetlands,” Yahya. “We are also taking strong action against the poachers and all protected wetlands are being monitored minutely.”
At present, Kashmir has nine protected wetlands at Mirgund, Shalibugh, Malgam, Haigam, Freshkhori, Chatalam, Manibugh and Krachoo, which constitute 1954.5 sq kms area and the biggest is Wular Lake.
Almost 24 different species of migratory birds start putting up at wetlands in Kashmir from the first week of October and they retrace their flight in the first week of April.
As per the official figures, around six lakh migratory birds visited Kashmir last season.
Sajid Farooq, range officer central control room, said that this year they have seized nine guns this year and have booked the people for poaching.
“We seized six guns from Hokersar and three more from other wetlands this season,” he said.
Farooq said that many double guns issued for self-defense are misused for poaching activities.
“Many are using the cartridges issued to them for self-defense. We are also booking them under the FireArms Act as well,” said Farooq.
Farooq said that the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, any person who ventures to hunt, poach, capture or sell these birds is liable to a jail term of a three year along with fine upto 25,000 rupees.
“The department has registered many criminal cases against those persons who were apprehended while hunting, poaching, capturing and selling these migratory birds,” he said.
On average, around 2 percent of total migratory birds die every year due to poaching.
Pollution, encroachment – A ‘concern’
The rise in encroachment and pollution has shrunk the wetlands raising severe concern about the visit of migratory birds for the upcoming seasons.
Ghulam Muhammad, one of the caretakers of Hokarsar wetland, said that the periphery of the wetland is consistently getting converted into residential houses.
“It is a serious concern,” he said. “The Hokersar is shrinking day- by- day. The dredging company is also not doing its job properly. They dredge the wetland but keep the muck on the peripheries which later due to rain slides back into the water.”
Locals in the adjoining areas of the Hokersar said that the wetland has become a garbage dumping site.
“The wetland is full of plastic bottles and polythenes. It [hokersar] is dying a slow death. The government is not paying any attention towards this grave issue,” they said.
Locals also complained that dredging is “ill timed” as birds need to be kept undisturbed.
However, the Department of Wildlife Protection said dredging would not have much impact on the stay of birds in Hokersar.
“The dredging usually takes place when the water level is low. So, it has to be done around this time only,” an official said.