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‘73% drop in flamingos visiting MMR in Jan’

PUBLISHED ON JAN 13, 2020 12:44 AM IST

The number of flamingos migrating to various wetlands in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) in January till now has dropped by 73% compared to 2018, according to pan-Indian wildlife research group Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Reason: The changing weather pattern with excess rainfall over the past year leading to more availability of food for flamingos in Kutch, Gujarat, combined with the destruction of some of their roosting areas along the eastern seafront, such as in Uran, said experts.

MMR is the second largest flamingo habitat along the west coast after Kutch, Gujarat, according to BNHS, which began monitoring flamingo numbers since May 2018 under a 10-year exercise. According to BNHS, flamingo numbers over the years generally rise from around 20,000 in May and go up to more than 1.2 lakh by January. November, December and January are the three main winter months when most flamingos visit MMR. Last year in January, there were 1.21 lakh flamingos across 16 locations in MMR in areas such as Sewri mudflats, Thane creek, Vitawa, various locations in Navi Mumbai and Uran wetlands. Only 33,334 flamingos have arrived in MMR in January 2020 till now. While 57,181 flamingos arrived in MMR in December 2018 and 51,988 in November 2018, there were only 7,118 flamingos in December 2019 and around 7,000 in November 2019.

“Flamingos visit the MMR wetlands mostly for feeding purposes from the Gujarat region, which is their breeding area. Migration starts after monsoon, when water-filled regions start drying up,” said Rahul Khot, assistant director, BNHS, who leads the flamingo studies. “However, last year, rain continued well after official monsoon months. As a result, there is still water and enough food in the Gujarat wetlands, and these birds did not need to migrate,” he said. With the water starting to deplete in the Kutch wetlands, Khot said they expect a rise in number of flamingos visiting MMR from the third week of January up to March. These variations are a clear indicator of the changing weather pattern, said Khot, adding the same changes are being observed for other wetland migratory birds too. “If this continues as an annual pattern, then it will impact the migration period and pattern,” he said.

Ornithologist and naturalist writer Sunjoy Monga, who is currently in Gujarat, said flamingo migration in Ahmedabad, too, was much lesser this year than 2019. “Changing weather pattern could be one of the reasons for the decline in numbers, but it is difficult to pin-point any concrete reason yet. We should hope that this is a one-off incident. However, apart from Uran wetlands that are completely destroyed, there has not been much change in wetland patches within Mumbai,” he said. Monga added that flamingos in Kutch were spread out in good numbers, and there was enough water in breeding and roosting sites for the birds till January.

Independent experts said there is a need to look at the population across all flamingo habitats that form the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) —one of the nine major migratory flyways covering migratory bird routes across 30 countries, with maximum routes passing through India. “Flamingos, like other migratory birds, are dynamic species that respond to their needs including site fidelity. The reason for any change has to be understood by correlating across an entire region as they have high adaptability. However, disturbances are happening, both anthropogenic and climate-related,” said Ritesh Kumar, director, Wetlands International (South Asia).

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