Bird migration studies stagnate in India after Centre cites security reasons | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Bird migration studies stagnate in India after Centre cites security reasons

mumbai Updated: Nov 05, 2016 00:44 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Satellite telemetry studies are done, both nationally and internationally, to check the migratory patterns of endangered birds such as vultures, flamingos and waders. (HT File Photo)

Not a single study on migratory patterns of birds has taken place in Maharashtra and various other parts of the country in the past three years.

For research groups in a city like Mumbai, which has such birds in and around it, this is not the best of news.

HT had reported last month that over 7,500 flamingoes had stayed back at the Thane creek this year because of loss of habitat in different parts of the country.

Citing national security concerns, the Centre banned the import of satellite transmitters that birds are radio-collared with, to track their movement.

Satellite telemetry studies are done, both nationally and internationally, to check the migratory patterns of endangered birds such as vultures, flamingos and waders. This has come to a grinding halt for research institutions like the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

Researchers from BNHS said that their vulture and flamingo studies that were proposed in as early as 2013, have been on hold even after repeated requests to the Union environment ministry.

“The government has banned the import of a special piece of tracking equipment, called a Platform Terminal Transmitter (PTT), which maps details such as altitude, location, and micro-climatic conditions of the birds’ movement. For three years, the research work is suffering. Conservation measures need to be taken up seriously,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

Apte added that BNHS’ national programme to release captive vultures was supposed to start this year but was postponed until the Centre’s clearance could be obtained. “We have requested the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to help and sort the issue. We cannot release our captive-bred vultures until we have permission to tag them,” he said, adding that the BNHS had applied for a PTT approval a year ago but were advised to reapply through the forest department. “We applied again this year through the Haryana forest department and requested the ministry to look into it but there has been no response.”

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, had issued a notification in early 2015, banning import of all satellite telemetry devices.

“Since these are radio-collaring devices that use electronic transmission as means of communication, they can be misused. In light of national security concerns, we not only banned such devices, but also satellite phones,” said an official from the ministry. “However, transmitters built in the country can be obtained after a licence is issued by our Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing (WPC) wing.”

Experts said that the move was a retrogressive step as it stopped the use of latest technology to study bird movements. “This is important from the point-of-view of avian disease transmission and bird movements on the basis of climate change. We are struggling to acquire such technology for basic research now,” said Asad Rahmani, former director, BNHS and avian expert, who had proposed the flamingo study in 2013. “Other countries such as USA and Canada are using advanced technology like geo-locators that allows scientists to understand the movement of birds through signals that point out their habitat use, flight pattern and distance, all the way from Canada to Mexico.”

Officials from a national nature conservation organisation, Wildlife Trust of India, said that the ban had affected avian (bird) studies nationally too. “Not only BNHS, but institutions like the Wildlife Institute of India, World Wildlife Fund and conservation organisations in India are finding it difficult to carry out avian studies because we cannot import any of these devices. While they can be misused by tracking people’s location, it is the only instrument to understand bird movements,” said Jose Louies, head of trade control, Wildlife Trust of India. “It is a request from all conservation organisations that the government consider this and allow the use of such devices for research work.”

He added that radio devices with a range between 500 metre and one kilometre are still used in India but the government banned other devices which have geo-transmission. “Last year, our team got international approval for acquiring radio tags for a star tortoise rehabilitation programme but the telecommunications ministry denied the import,” he said.

Some of the studies that were planned in 2013 included understanding the migratory patterns of the White-backed vulture and Indian vulture, identified as ‘critically endangered’, the Spotted Greenshank (endangered), Green Spotted eagle and Imperial eagle (both vulnerable) and near threatened birds like the Black-headed ibis and lesser flamingo.

How BNHS had planned to track flamingos?

Under a five-year program for flamingo conservation at Thane creek and Sewri mudflats, BNHS had begun a satellite study to understand flamingo movement.

Satellite tags were to be attached to the birds’ leg. Use the process of ‘satellite telemetry’, which involves attaching a special piece of tracking equipment, called a Platform Terminal Transmitter (PTT) that gives exact details of altitude, location, micro-climatic conditions, the movement of the birds were to be tracked.

“We began studying the species because very little research has been done on these migratory birds. As a part of the project, we were also studying how metals were accumulating in their body as a result of pollutants in different water bodies in flamingo-dominated areas,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

Threats to the biodiversity of migratory birds in and around Mumbai

· Encroachment by slums

· Pollution (chemicals, oil, grease, pesticides)

· Release of untreated sewage into the sea

· Release of wastes from nearby dye factory

· Fish mortality because of hot water that is discharged into the sea by industries

· Poaching of birds

· Fuel wood collection from mangroves

· Electrocution of larger birds like flamingos on high-tension wires

(Source: Bombay Natural History Society)