Garbage dumps,rat poisoning lead to dip in Steppe Eagle count

While the Wildlife Week will be observed from October 2-8,city-based ornithologists have raised concern at the alarming decline in the population of Steppe Eagle.

Written by Anuradha Mascharenhas | Pune | Published:October 6, 2013 3:27 am

While the Wildlife Week will be observed from October 2-8,city-based ornithologists have raised concern at the alarming decline in the population of Steppe Eagle. “We fear their decline is also accentuated by exposure to the garbage dumps and poisoning by the rodenticides (rat poison),” researchers said.

In the first ever comprehensive paper presented at the Palearctic Eagles Conference held in September at Russia,Dr Satish Pande,Dr Anil Mahabal and Dr R M Sharma reviewed records from 1882-2013 on the distribution of the Steppe Eagle,Aquila Nipalensis,in the Indian Sub continent.

With a dark brown plumage and greyish flight and tail feathers,the Steppe Eagle is a winter passage migrant and regular winter visitor (September to May) to the Indian subcontinent. The reports of distribution of this eagle are scattered in the oriental literature,Pande told Newsline. To obtain a holistic understanding of its status,distributional pattern,migratory pathway,altitudinal range,habitat choice and populations,we analysed the published literature and the confirmed photographic records from the Indian subcontinent from 1882 to 2013.

Researchers gleaned over reports from 95 published papers and websites and tried to give an overview of the status,distribution,habitat choice,behaviour,populations and threats to the wintering Steppe Eagle in India,Pande said.

In all,76,879 Steppe Eagles were reported from nine countries in the Indian subcontinent: India,Afghanistan,Pakistan,Nepal,Tibet,Bhutan,Sikkim,Myanmar and Bangladesh. Within the same region where the Steppe Eagles were sighted,up to 59 raptor species were recorded indicating that such regions were suitable raptor habitats. In India,the altitudinal distribution of the eagle ranged from 0 m to 4500 m above sea level,Pande said.

It occurred in 26 Protected Areas and was recorded in habitats such as alpine meadows and forests,cliffs in Himalayas,Gangetic plains,riverside habitat,desert,semiarid regions,grassland,dry deciduous forest,wetland,irrigated cultivation and urban fringes. Hence the knowledge of the wintering grounds in India,Nepal,Bhutan,Pakistan,Afghanistan,Bangladesh,Tibet assume special importance,the researchers said.

While migrating from their breeding grounds in the temperate regions to the Indian subcontinent the eagle’s bottle necked at Himalayan valleys in Nepal (Annapurna,Kali Gandgki,Arun,Dudhkosi) and India (Kangra and Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh) where they were reported in large numbers. We report a southward and eastward extension of their distribution in India as compared to the earlier records. They are distributed in entire India except in oceanic islands in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal,Pande said.

However they expressed concern that since the eagles mainly congregated around garbage and carrion dumps ,they faced a risk of being poisoned by the rodenticides.There was also a risk of being electrocuted by high tension cable wires,Pande added.

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