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Photo Source: The News International

Pakistan Reader# 677, 11 October 2023

Avian crisis: Climate threat to Pakistan’s birds



If the impact of climate change on the avian population continues to be overlooked, the consequences in the upcoming years will be irreversible.

Dhriti Mukherjee

On 08 October, The News International released an article titled “Pakistan's bird population 'at risk due to climate change,'” where it linked the adverse effects of climate change on the birds of Pakistan. The significance of birds is often overlooked; they play a vital role in “human health, public hygiene, pest control and the reproduction of plants” as per wildlife expert Dr Muhammad Azhar. They are highly sensitive to the changing patterns of the climate, which are already affecting their migration and habitat. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Country Manager Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, “Climate change has caused advanced spring migration, changes in birds’ habitat, higher possibility of disease transmission, earlier egg-laying time, less food availability, and a decline in the population.”
 
Another article published in The Express Tribune titled “Wings of Change” explores this further, stating that the “apocalyptic” effects of Pakistan’s floods are being faced by birds, as scores of trees have been destroyed. If the impact of climate change on the avian population continues to be overlooked, the consequences in the upcoming years will be irreversible.
 
The impact of climate change on bird populations and habitats
The biggest revelation presented by Azhar was that around 600 to 900 species of birds could face extinction if temperatures rise by 3.5°C by the next century, with 89 per cent of these extinctions projected to occur in tropical areas.
 
Pakistan has majorly seen climate change-induced alterations in temperature variations in the form of floods. Based on the findings of the Pakistan Meteorological Department's monthly climate summary for August 2022, Sindh experienced an increase in rainfall by 726 per cent in that month alone. As a result, these birds find their habitats shrinking and their chances of survival diminishing. Cheema highlighted the implications of this, which indicate that highly and moderately vulnerable birds are at risk of losing over half of their current geographic range as they are forced to seek suitable habitats and climate conditions elsewhere. Climate change is rapidly reshaping where birds live, when they migrate, lay eggs, and even the sizes and shapes of their bodies.
 
For instance, tropical mountain birds, such as the northern snowbird, are particularly vulnerable because they lack access to higher elevations to escape increasing temperatures. Sparrows, which are often overlooked for being a common species, are also declining in number.
 
Furthermore, a bird census conducted by the Sindh Wildlife Department pointed out a 7.8 per cent decline in the number of migratory birds in temporary water bodies, from 2021-22 to 2022-23. Scuba diver and birder Syed Khizar Sharif stated “Since many migratory bird species rely on certain environments” for their various activities, the disruptions have led to a loss in Pakistan’s migratory bird population. He asserted the need for “conservation projects and ecologically responsible practices” to “sustain migratory bird populations and their critical ecological functions.”
 
How climate is not the only culprit
Climate change and loss of habitat are not the only obstacles birds are facing; hunting, poaching, and urbanisation are all underlying causes that have contributed to the decline in migratory and local birds. Wildlife photographer Usama Tabani brought forth how converting all uninhabited and wild lands, which are the lifeline for these migratory birds, into housing societies across Pakistan” has contributed to a fall in the number of migratory birds in areas where they were predominant. He stressed the need to “coexist with the wild.”
 
Illegal poaching and netting have also become practices observed in mainly tropical parts of the country, with great numbers of flamingos, a local species, disappearing from the Mai Kolachi in Karachi. People who have been displaced as a result of the flood also hunt birds as a source of food whenever they can. While the fate of bird species will only become clearer after the effects of the floods are dealt with, it is certain that there is an inverse relation between global warming and changing bird populations. The brevity of it can be understood based on the next migratory pattern.
 
References
Pakistan’s bird population ‘at risk due to climate change,’” The News International, 08 October 2023;
Heba Moeen, “Wings of change,” The Express Tribune, 02 July 2023

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