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Meet the man from Mumbai who takes sparrows under his wing

Mohammad Dilawar convinced 40,000 people across the country to join the sparrow conservation movement in five years

mumbai Updated: Apr 05, 2018 11:04 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
mumbai,sparrow,environment
Mohammad Dilawar, 38, has been a sparrow conservation crusader since 2003.

Mohammad Dilawar, 38, has been a sparrow conservation crusader since 2003. His group, Nature Forever Society (NFS), claims to have spread the message of sparrow conservation to over a million people in Mumbai, as well as people across the country.

To mark World Sparrow Day on March 20 every year, Dilawar chooses Mumbai as the epicentre for sparrow conservation efforts. In 2011, he was part of the group of conservationists that managed to convince the Delhi government to declare sparrows as the state bird for better species protection.

A significant decline in sparrow population has been observed over the past two decades across major metropolitan cities.

A 2013 online survey conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) reported the absence of sparrows from about 50% areas from 2005 to 2012, in comparison to pre-2005 years. In the last decade, big sparrow clusters (30 individuals and more) saw a 60% decline, while there was a 65% dip in sparrow nests.

A more recent study by Pune-based Ela Foundation found that Maharashtra’s metropolitan cities Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik have witnessed a 50% decline in sparrow population over 10 years. However, no specific city-based studies have been carried out to check their population.

Dilawar was curious about the decreasing number of vultures and sparrows around his home from an early age. “No one really believed that sparrows needed conservation during the early 90s. So, it was my intention to raise awareness among people as citizens are the only source of safety for these birds. Once this happened, other agencies and the government would automatically initiate conservation efforts,” he said.

He started his work on sparrow conservation in Mumbai in 2003. Within the next five years, he had convinced over 40,000 people across the country to join the movement – including 9,000 from Mumbai.

NFS conducted awareness drives, exhibitions, and contests to reach out to citizens, schools, colleges, birders, office complexes, and shopping malls. In addition, they provided them with bird feeders and shelters.

Dilawar was also part of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in Mumbai for a year, where he conducted research on sparrows.

“No government policies can save these species. As citizens, all we need to do is open our doors, windows, and our heart to nurture these birds, and we will be successful,” said Dilawar. NFS never focused on acquiring data for the birds and only concentrated on spreading awareness, added Dilawar.

Dilawar identified six main threats to the sparrow population – lack of nesting sites, lack of food, modern architecture destroying their nests, excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, large-scale plantation of non-native plants, and electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers.

“The media in India, especially Mumbai, has been instrumental in conveying the conservation message and highlighting these threats that have prompted action on ground,” said Dilawar adding that the movement started from Mumbai, and has now taken global dimensions.

“Till date, we have never accepted any money or charity to boost efforts for sparrow conservation. All we have done is to ask them to take up the responsibility to create a habitat by adopting a nest box, shelter or feeder, and the birds will automatically come,” he said.

“Mindless urbanisation and planning in a city like Mumbai is one of the primary reasons for the decline in sparrow population. However, places where the basic needs of the sparrows were fulfilled, they returned. Currently, we have witnessed a marginal increase in the population in Mumbai.”

First Published: Mar 26, 2018 00:27 IST