Friday 21 December 2012

Critically endangered species we have encountered.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper; This was our first and most crucial CR species and of course the reason we are doing all of this. The world population is thought to be around 400 individuals with a breeding stock of less than 100 pairs.

The WWT captive breeding programme is designed to provide a safety net in the case of the wild population becoming extinct as it could, even within 5 years. The Russian 'kickstart' initiative where birds are fledged and  released on the breeding grounds will bolster the wild population hopefully providing a lifeline to them there and preventing their extinction. 

All this is going on at the same time as international efforts to protect the birds on their wintering grounds in Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh (where in the case of the latter two they face the horror of ending up in the pot) and also on their stopover areas along the Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Recent unconfirmed (to our knowledge) reports from China suggest that a small wintering population may have been located, if this is the case then this is good news providing their wintering area can be secured long term.

Sociable Lapwing; we saw these unexpectedly in the UAE. These birds breed in Khazakstan and a small part of southern Russia and migrate mainly to the Sudan for the winter although some will winter in north west India. On migration they normally pass through Turkey and Syria where as recently as 2007 flocks of a thousand or so have been seen although numbers appear to have fallen sharply since then. Small numbers are often reported from the UAE but they do not appear to winter there.

As with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, although the bird faces threats on its breeding grounds, mostly from nest predation and habitat loss, it is on migration and on the wintering grounds where it faces its biggest challenges. On migration hunting is probably the biggest threat they face as falconers turn more to other species now that the Macqueen's Bustard is becoming rarer; subsistence hunting and visiting sport hunters also take their toll.

Further studies are being carried out to determine how best to protect the species and halt the rapid decline in numbers. Efforts are being made to protect the birds from hunters through legislation which aims to protect the birds in national laws throughout their  range with habitat requirements being included within that. On the breeding grounds where the birds associate strongly with human habitation where livestock grazing provide ideal breeding habitat, one drawback is nest trampling which can occur when livestock is stampeded. Livestock management programmes could reduce this risk significantly. (Sheldon, R.D., Koshkin, M.A., Kamp, J., Dereliev,  S., Donald, P.F., & Jbour, S. (Compilers). 2012. International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius. CMS Technical Series No. XX, AEWA Technical Series No. XX. Bonn, Germany.)

It was recently reported that a flock of 400 birds had been seen together on their migration route, this was good news indeed as some estimates put the entire population as low as 600 breeding pairs.

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