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Genome resource banking part of plan to conserve rare, endangered bird species in Delhi-NCR

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The authorities in Delhi-NCR plan to develop methods for procreating and conserving select rare, endangered and threatened (RET) bird species using surrogate species, and create a state-of-the-art genome resource banking facility for them.

Genome resource banking is the storage of reproductive cells and embryos from threatened species with an intention to use them in breeding programmes in the future.

A draft action plan has been prepared by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) for the conservation of avian diversity, their ecosystems, habitats and landscapes in the Delhi-NCR over the next 10 years.

The action plan for the Delhi-NCR is part of a broader plan which covers 17 states in five zones — north, south, east, west, and central. It was shared with the Delhi forest and wildlife department last month.

The Delhi-NCR accounts for almost one-third of the total bird species found in India. Out of the total 446 bird species reported in the region since 1970, sixty-three are considered rare, endangered and threatened (RET).

Studies focusing on wetland birds, including 20 RET species, have highlighted many conservation issues including high pollution load and stunted flow in the Yamuna, and encroachment on bird habitats in the form of buildings etc.

SACON, along with the forest and wildlife departments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, will study possible threats to RET species, assess conservation measures required to restore their populations, and re-introduce them in their native habitats, if required.

The draft plan emphasises on “developing methods for procreating and conserving select RET bird species using surrogate species and a state-of-the-art genome resource banking facility for cryobanking viable biomaterials from RET bird species”.

Whole-genome sequences of select RET bird species will be generated in the long term, it stated.

“Species Recovery Plans” will be prepared for RET species such as the bristled grassbird, sarus crane, Indian skimmer, black-bellied tern, white-rumped vulture, Egyptian vulture, steppe eagle and the fish eagle.

SACON and the state authorities will also review the impact of pesticides and rodenticides on the avian diversity in select production landscapes.

Production landscapes are unprotected areas where economic activity such as agriculture, livestock grazing, forestry or fishing takes place.

The authorities will identify and evaluate bird-human conflicts at the landscape level with respect to livelihoods and socio-economic issues to evaluate particular threats to target species of birds.

They will also assess and prioritise key stop-over sites and wintering habitats in wetlands for the conservation of migratory birds.

The impacts of major developmental sectors such as power and transmission, linear projects including road, rail transport and highways, mining, industry, infrastructure, construction and real estate on avian diversity will be assessed and effective management strategies will be developed, the draft plan stated.

One of the major steps will be assessing the extent of illegal bird trade in Delhi-NCR and identifying sources, transit, and market hotspots.

Local birding organisations will be involved to conduct bird census in major urban agglomerates and assess the population status of the urban avifauna. Thereafter, a ‘Bird Atlas’ will be developed.

The faunal diversity of the Delhi-NCR is mainly found in the Delhi Ridge, Sultanpur National Park, Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, Hauz Khas Deer Park, Mangar Bani (sacred grove), protected and non-protected river impoundments, and wetlands like Okhla barrage, Najafgarh jheel, Basai wetlands, Damdama Lake and Badkhal Lake.

Common resident bird species found here are little cormorant, cattle egret, grey francolin, coppersmith barbet, alexandrine parakeet, spotted owlet, spotted dove, jungle prinia, red-whiskered bulbul, and rock pigeon.

Migratory bird species like greater spotted eagle, ferruginous duck, greylag geese, bar-headed geese, common teal, northern shoveler, eurasian wigeon, eurasian coot and species with local movements like painted stork, woolly-necked stork, river lapwing, black-headed ibis, and oriental darter are found in the NCR.

The red-headed vulture, a critically endangered species, has been recently spotted in the area.

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