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War may kill millions of birds

More than a million S African birds could find themselves in the dangerous Iraqi warfront when they head north for the winter.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2003 16:00 IST

More than a million South African birds could find themselves in the dangerous Iraqi warfront when they head north for the winter, a media report said here on Saturday.

The Johannesburg-based Saturday Star said the birds, which are accumulating fat as fuel for their long journey, will be flying through Iraq from now until May, before fanning out to their breeding grounds in Asia.

Les Underhill of the University of Cape Town said the South African bird ringing unit recovered two birds ringed in South Africa in Iraq.

Underhill said a steppe buzzard, ringed near Bredasdorp would have been on its way to its breeding grounds in southern Asia.

"The other was a curlew sandpiper, ringed at Langebaan lagoon, which would have been about halfway to its breeding grounds, which lie in the northeast edge of the Taimyr Peninsula, in the tundra of Siberia."

Underhill said these two recoveries were representative of millions of birds which migrated through Iraq and the West Asia.

He said the bird ringing unit database contained hundreds more recoveries of birds in this general area ringed in South Africa.

Underhill said the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 and the 1990-1991 Gulf War were destructive of bird habitat.

"One of the main battlegrounds of the Iran-Iraq War was of the Mesopotamian marshes, one of the most important bird areas of the West Asia. Vast areas of reedbeds were burnt and wetlands were drained."

Migration was not a continuous route along which birds could feed.

"People should rather picture a series of stepping stones which are linked by 'hops' of varying lengths. The destruction of one critical refuelling site leads to the loss of a migration route and the loss of a population breeding in one area of the world and migrating to another."