PESHAWAR: Hundreds of millions of international migratory species of birds pass through two major air routes through Pakistan, but the country is now becoming a more ‘unsafe’ paradise for these birds than ever before.

According to BirdLife International, a global organization for bird conservation and research, the current number of birds passing through Pakistan is lower than in the past, largely due to climate change, declining green areas declining water bodies and the rampant hunting of these birds.

Many of the birds that migrate to or pass through Pakistan also come from Siberia or other extreme cold regions.  These millions of birds live for a limited time each year on the shores of Pakistani lakes and dams, or in the wet lush regions, which experts call wetlands. Muhammad Waseem, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Pakistan coordinator told DW, “Pakistan is witnessing internal migration of birds as well as international migration. Birds migrating to tropical areas of Pakistan live in wet green lands, lake shores or dam areas from the north to the bottom of the Indus River.

According to Waseem, the main reasons for the negative effects of bird migration include global warming, deforestation, depletion of water bodies and poaching. He said that the unregulated tourism and the damage done by humans to the pure ecosystems of birds have also a significant negative impact. For example, efforts are being made to keep water areas like Khanpur Dam, Rawal Lake, and Lake Saif al-Muluk clean and safe for these birds, but many other Pakistani areas are now no more clean, attractive or safe for these birds. About a quarter of a century ago, there were about 670 species of birds in Pakistan, of which about 30% were guest birds that migrated to Pakistan in winter.

Bilal Qazi, professional wildlife photographer, told DW that he has so far photographed 410 species of birds in different parts of Pakistan. He said that the effects of climate change in Pakistan are more severe today than ten years ago. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Bilal Qazi said, “The number of birds coming to Pakistan from other countries and regions has decreased. The severity of the cold and summer seasons has changed. As a result, the airways used by migratory birds for their flights are being affected to a large extent.

Explaining the major threats to domestic or international migratory birds in Pakistan, Qazi also described poaching as a serious problem. “Illegal hunting of many species of birds is very common in Pakistani waters and regions,” he said. 

Organizations and institutions working in this field have done some work, especially in cities like Sialkot and Lahore, but there is still a lot of work to be done across the country as a whole.  Wildlife conservation departments are under provincial jurisdiction. They also do their best to prevent poaching of birds. But not much success has been achieved so far because the number of people trying to stop poaching is much lower than the number of poachers. In Pakistan, the effects of climate change has become real in recent years, there has been an increase in public and social awareness against these changes.

In this regard, Qazi said, “Public awareness has increased significantly. Earlier, only two or three people used to do professional wildlife photography, but today that number has risen to nearly 500. There are many photographers whose work has been praised by the World Wildlife Fund and even National Geographic.  Government efforts are in place, but there is a growing public awareness of such individuals and organizations working to protect wildlife.”

Qazi has also written a book called Birds of Punjab. “Pakistani children usually don’t know anything except birds, crows, bulbuls and parrots,” he told DW. The purpose of this book was to tell ordinary Pakistanis as well as today’s children and tomorrow’s decision makers about the species of birds found in different parts of Pakistan. What effect does their presence have on the environment?  What difference does it make if they are not there for some reason?”

Ali Khan, a young resident of Bani Gala, Islamabad, who is active in wildlife conservation and has a keen interest in migratory birds other than the local ones, told DW:  After migrating there, the wildlife department should try provide these birds with a natural environment, as they use this season for breeding for their survival. It also happens in India that when the season for the arrival of such birds comes, people welcome these birds, there are even local fairs. But in our country, as soon as this season starts, people start preparing for hunting.

Khan said that the reasons for the decline in the number of migratory birds in Pakistan include the weather conditions as well as the behavior of ordinary citizens. He added that the people of Pakistan should realize that a number of species of birds are in danger of extinction in Pakistan at present. In addition, about half a dozen species of birds are in grave danger of extinction.

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