People, Environment

Birds Estrangement Grows Despite Ramsar Convention

Birds Estrangement Grows Despite Ramsar ConventionBirds Estrangement Grows Despite Ramsar Convention

Every year on May 10, environmentalists worldwide celebrate the vast diversity of migratory birds in their countries. In Iran, activists lament their decreasing numbers.

Experts single out the destruction of habitats due to development projects and illegal hunting as the main threats to the life of the birds, but little has been done to stop and reverse the trend.

“Our wetlands and rivers are drying up which means migratory birds are losing their wintering or breeding grounds,” Esmaeil Kahrom, an ecologist and advisor to the Department of Environment, told ILNA.

He said ever since Iran signed the Ramsar Convention in 1971, whose aim is to conserve wetlands and protect migratory birds, the number of birds traveling to Iran has steadily declined.

“Wetlands and by extension migratory birds are at risk in our country. Although the species that come to Iran are as diverse as they’ve always been, their numbers have dropped (since we pledged to protect them in 1971),” Kahrom said.

The population of mallards flying to Iran has dropped by 70%, while the 40,000 flamingoes and 20,000 pelicans that used to congregate at Lake Urmia in the breeding season have totally abandoned the site since it is almost completely dry. The lake only contains 5% of the water it held 20 years ago.

  Poaching: a Scandal

Illegal hunting is another threat to migratory birds. Millions of birds head to Iran every fall to escape the harsh winter of their European habitats. Many fly to Fereydounkenar in Mazandaran Province; some to stay, some to use it as a pit stop before traveling south in search of a warmer climate.

But many do not return. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds were illegally hunted in Fereydounkenar in 2014 alone and many were captured to be sold in the black market.

“They’re killed for sport and it’s illegal. I hope officials put an end to this scandal,” Kahrom said.

About three-quarters of the 536 registered bird species in Iran are migratory, categorized into three groups of spring, fall and winter birds.

Winter birds constitute the majority of these migratory species which often fly to Iran from cold regions, such as Siberia, to spend a mild winter in regions with abundant food resources. Geese, ducks and other waterfowls are the main species which often begin their journey in Siberia, land in the southern shores of the Caspian Sea and fly southward to Anzali and Amir Kalayeh wetlands in Gilan Province.

They then set off for western water bodies such as Kani Barazan wetland in Kurdestan, while many opt for more central locations such as Gavkhouni and Parishan wetlands. They stay a while in southern areas like the Persian Gulf wetlands before traveling to even warmer regions, such as Africa.