Two Countries, One Habitat

by Pushpinder Singh Jamwal 1

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.

Gharana wetland is situated on the border between India and Pakistan

Gharana wetland is situated on the border between India and Pakistan

Screenshot 2021-10-04 at 1.32.57 PM_600

The black stork is a winter visitor. The Gharana wetland and adjacent areas offer plentiful feeding resources for migrating birds.

The black stork is a winter visitor. The Gharana wetland and adjacent areas offer plentiful feeding resources for migrating birds.

A woolly-necked stork can be seen in the wetland and its adjacent agricultural areas. It has been classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means that it is likely to become extinct in the near future unless the conditions threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

A woolly-necked stork can be seen in the wetland and its adjacent agricultural areas. It has been classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means that it is likely to become extinct in the near future unless the conditions threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

Bar-headed geese collared at Pong Dam were seen at Gharana, providing insight into their local winter dispersal patterns. Important discoveries, such as the bar-headed goose’s migratory path to Himachal, can help policymakers develop conservation plans for migratory bird and wildlife habitats.

Bar-headed geese collared at Pong Dam were seen at Gharana, providing insight into their local winter dispersal patterns. Important discoveries, such as the bar-headed goose’s migratory path to Himachal, can help policymakers develop conservation plans for migratory bird and wildlife habitats.

BHGs in Gharana wetland with tractor moving in the fields in the background_600

Pakistani posts across the Line of Actual Control

Pakistani posts across the Line of Actual Control

Gharana villagers are not in favour of a Wetland Conservation Reserve. The agricultural land is prized for its harvest since the area produces some of the best basmati rice in the region. Much of the land around the Reserve has been encroached upon by locals and turned into agricultural fields.

Gharana villagers are not in favour of a Wetland Conservation Reserve. The agricultural land is prized for its harvest since the area produces some of the best basmati rice in the region. Much of the land around the Reserve has been encroached upon by locals and turned into agricultural fields.

Garbage dumping on the periphery of the wetland has become a serious issue.

Garbage dumping on the periphery of the wetland has become a serious issue.

Illegal fishing in the wetland

Illegal fishing in the wetland

A flock of bar-headed geese fly over an agricultural field near the wetland. Gharana’s agricultural area is home to hundreds of bar-headed geese, a key case of human-wildlife conflict.

A flock of bar-headed geese fly over an agricultural field near the wetland. Gharana’s agricultural area is home to hundreds of bar-headed geese, a key case of human-wildlife conflict.

Moving freely between borders

Moving freely between borders

***

 

One Comment

  1. Arslan Khan October 4, 2021 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    The government and the concerned agencies have really got to buck up and make concerted efforts to conserve the gharana wetland. This piece is really worth a read ! Amazing!

Leave A Response