Bird biodiversity in Tamil Nadu under severe threat

Lack of legislation for the protection of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas putting many species in danger.
Fifteen out of 54 vulnerable bird species of India are found in Tamil Nadu (File)
Fifteen out of 54 vulnerable bird species of India are found in Tamil Nadu (File)

CHENNAI: Bird biodiversity in Tamil Nadu is under threat and 18 out of 39 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are unprotected, according to the latest report prepared by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).Though the State has improved its tally of bird areas from 34 to 39, habitat destruction, agriculture intensification, industrialisation and urbanisation are eating into IBAs endangering at least 40 bird species.

As per the report titled “Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in India: Priority Sites for Conservation”, an updated edition released after 14 years of work, four bird species have been categorised as critically endangered, of which three belong to Vulture family.

White-rumped Vulture, Long-billed Vulture, Red-headed Vulture and Spoon-billed Sandpiper have been reported to be critically endangered. There have been no confirmed sightings of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Tamil Nadu for 20 years. This apart, six species are endangered, eight vulnerable and 22 nearly threatened.

In 2014, BirdLife International had listed 18 endangered species in India, of which, the Black-chinned Laughingthrush and the Spotted Greenshank have been recorded in one IBA in the State. Fifteen out of 54 vulnerable species are found in Tamil Nadu. Out of 81 Near Threatened bird species, 15 are in Tamil Nadu. For 13 such species,  IBAs and protected areas of Tamil Nadu are important for survival. The wetlands of Tamil Nadu are also major strongholds of the Spot-billed Pelican. It is found in 16 of the 39 IBAs in Tamil Nadu.                                                                                      

Lead author Asad Rahmani, former director of BNHS and member of Governing Body of Wetlands International South Asia, told Express that IBA recognition doesn’t come easy.  “In India, we have 554 bird areas and Tamil Nadu is among top five States in terms of bird biodiversity, but has large unprotected area.”

Rahmani said a proposal has been submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to bring in some kind of legislation to protect these bird areas. “We are not demanding a complete ban on development activities in IBAs, but some regulations can be brought in. Many bird areas are protected under Wildlife Act, but the ones in unprotected spaces are suffering. Sometimes, a small area is used by migratory birds as stop over spot.”

He said Tamil Nadu would be having more bird areas. “Actually, many more sites were suggested by ornithologists of the State, but due to lack of good information, only five were finally added. An aim of our book is to encourage people to conduct more extensive and better surveys, and to document their information in the form of research papers and reports. Perhaps in a few years time, more sites will be identified that adhere to the IBA criteria of BirdLife International.”                                                                                    

KV Sudhakar, president, Madras Naturalists Society, told Express that recommendations were sent to identify Pallikaranai Marsh as IBA, but it didn’t meet one criterion. “It is protected by forest department, but didn’t attract 20,000 birds as need for it to be identified as an IBA.”

New IBAs in trouble

The new bird areas that were added are Odiyur Lagoon or Cheyyur lagoon, which is about 1,000 hectares in Kancheepuram. The wetland is known to support around 77 bird species. These include resident and seasonal migrants and winter migrants. Well known for its Greater Flamingo congregation, this site also hosts Lesser Flamingo during the winter. At least eight species recorded here are in the Threatened and Near Threatened list of IUCN and Birdlife International.

However, the wetland is in danger due to  the Cheyyur Thermal Power Plant, a coal-fired Ultra Mega Power Project that will be set up near it, said Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmentalist.Other new bird areas like Megamalai Mountains in Western Ghats of Theni district, are only partly protected. Melagiris IBA in Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri are completely not protected.

Criteria for an iba   
BirdLife International has set four criteria for awarding IBA recognition: the area should have globally endangered species, home for endemic species, biomes and should see a population of 20,000 waterbirds.

Not just birds
Out of about 35,000 species of flowering plants in the whole of India, about 3,000 species are found in Tamil Nadu. A total of 14 new species of dancing frogs from Western Ghats were discovered. A new species of caddisfly, found in Alagar Hills. This new species was named after the stream, An endemic plant, Caralluma diffusa, was rediscovered after 160 years from Coimbatore.

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