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Nepal’s birds pay cost for country’s infrastructure development

A sarus crane flies over an agricultural field.

A sarus crane flies over an agricultural field. Image by Hari K Patibanda via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

  • Nepal’s pursuit of development for the welfare of its citizens has made striking a balance between progress and environmental protection more challenging, especially in the context of bird conservation, experts say.
  • Throughout 2023, Mongabay reported on various issues related to Nepal’s avian diversity, highlighting the threats they face and the glimmers of hope that community-led conservation efforts have offered.
  • A building spree of hydropower plants and their associated power lines is among the chief threats taking a toll on both common and threatened species.
  • Despite the challenges, the past year also brought some good news about vultures and sarus cranes, thanks to community ownership and engagement.

KATHMANDU — As Nepal, one of the least industrialized countries in the world, invests in hydropower and roads to lift its people’s living standards, balancing public aspirations with conservation has proved to be a major challenge.

That was the view of leading ornithologist Hem Sagar Baral when illustrating the hurdles to biodiversity conservation, especially when it comes to birds, during an interview with Mongabay this past year. Throughout 2023, Mongabay covered a wide range of issues related to Nepal’s avian diversity, highlighting the threats they face and the glimmers of hope that community-led conservation efforts have offered.

Here are the top five stories Mongabay reported on in 2023 on the birds of Nepal.

Nests of hope: Nepal’s vulture colonies hold on amid new threats

In August, Mongabay reported on a study documenting  two colonies of critically endangered white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) in Nepal that have maintained stable numbers for more than a decade, despite facing several threats, including poisoning from the veterinary drug diclofenac. The findings came as the government released its new Vulture Conservation Action Plan (2023-2027) with the objective of restoring and conserving the country’s nine vulture species, eight of which are threatened or near-threatened.

The urgent threats identified under the plan include the persistent use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in livestock, which poison vultures that feed on livestock carcasses; other forms of poisoning; electrocution; and habitat degradation and disturbance.

Nepal’s hydropower boom is killing birds via power lines

In May, Mongabay reported on how large-scale unplanned hydropower development across Nepal threatens avian diversity in the country. High-voltage power lines crisscrossing the country connecting towns and cities to more than 100 hydropower projects nationwide are already among the main killers of birds in Nepal. The power lines not only affect common species such as crows, but also critically endangered species such as vultures. The problem may get worse as Nepal continues to significantly ramp up investments in hydropower and the associated power lines, conservationists warn.

Has the Buddha’s legacy in Nepal helped save sarus cranes?

Sarus cranes (Antigone antigone), which once roamed the entire Gangetic plain in southern Nepal and northern India, are now limited to a few patches, mainly in the western regions of the plains, including the birthplace of the Buddha in Lumbini in present-day Nepal.

Nepali conservationists say they believe there’s a possible link between the Buddha’s legacy and the conservation of the cranes in Lumbini. There, a wetland sanctuary for the birds, combined with local traditional farming practices may have helped the species survive, they say. But the cranes face a multitude of threats elsewhere, such as habitat loss, electrocution, hunting, and large-scale infrastructure development.

Mating season rings death knell for cheer pheasants in Nepal’s western Himalayas

In February, Mongabay reported on the state of the cheer pheasant Catreus wallichii), which is particularly prone to hunting in Nepal. Researchers told Mongabay that during springtime, the male birds make a  distinctive mating call, which echoes through the forests. Hunters follow these calls to find the birds, killing them for food. Hunting exacerbates the threats to the species, with conservationists saying awareness is the key to protecting the birds and their habitat.

Super flock of pigeons leaves Nepali researchers asking what happened

In September, Mongabay reported about a study documenting the appearance of a “super flock” of pigeons in western Nepal. Researchers told Mongabay that they still don’t know what was behind the gathering of an estimated 7,500 woodpigeons Columba palumbus casiotis ) observed in the country’s plains in December 2022. The study suggested a range of factors, from food availability to predator avoidance, combined to bring together the flock, which was 25 times larger than the biggest flock previously observed here. Climate factors may also have played a part, particularly the impact of heavy rains on the birds’ overwintering grounds in Pakistan, the authors of the study told Mongabay.<

 Banner Image: A sarus crane flies over an agricultural field. Image by Hari K Patibanda via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Abhaya Raj Joshi is a staff writer for Nepal at Mongabay. Find him on𝕏 @arj272.

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