A wetland is a rich ecosystem that supports many species, including migratory birds. Some wetlands’ primary function is to be a stopover site for generations of birds flying around the globe. The Gharana Wetland Conservation Reserve is one such, located in the RS Pura sector of the Jammu division of Jammu and Kashmir. The variety of its avifauna and its significance as a wintering ground for a large number of endangered and migratory waterfowl have led to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and BirdLife International recognising the Reserve as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Almost a quarter of the bird species found in India rely on wetlands. Thus, the degradation of wetlands is one of the greatest threats to rare and sensitive birds; it also accounts for 80 per cent of the population decrease of birds such as Asian flyways. Encroachment, increased agriculture and fishing, and climate change contribute to the deterioration of wetlands. The Gharana wetland also battles another challenge—its location on the international border between India and Pakistan. Hazards such as firing or skirmishes have caused significant damage in the past, and are a constant looming threat.
But the birds recognise no borders; they only know their habitat. Recent telemetry studies conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India document waterfowl from the Gharana wetland flying back and forth between the two countries. The bar-headed goose ‘flies to Pakistan’ and back to Gharana within a day. This is a fascinating affair for us researchers, who are also witness to the irony and impossibility of this unfettered cross-border movement.
These photographs were taken over the course of a year I spent studying and documenting birds in Gharana in 2013. The sensitive location of this area imposed restrictions on our using equipment such as drones. With the border on one side, the eponymous village close by is expanding towards the wetland. Still, efforts from the government and international NGOs are helping save these wetlands from being wiped out entirely.