24 February 2010 The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is helping to save the iconic Siberian Crane – a critically endangered species, numbering between just 3,000 and 3,500 – by stabilizing its flight path used for annual migration.
In spite of decades of conservation efforts, seven of the world’s 15 crane species were in danger of extinction by the 1970s, with similar trends being seen in ducks, geese, swans and other waterbirds.
Worldwide, 40 per cent of known waterbird populations are on the wane, having soared to 59 per cent in Asia.
Population growth, hunting and rising demands on limited water supplies all contribute to the loss and degraWorldwide, 40 per cent of known waterbird populations are on the wane, having soared to 59 per cent in Asiadation of wetland habitats on which these birds, including the Siberian Crane, depend.
Each year, Siberian Cranes travel up to 5,000 kilometers from their breeding grounds in Russia’s northern Siberia along two migration routes, passing Kazakhstan, to southern China and Iran where they spend their winters.
As they fly the long distances, they encounter some of this Earth’s highest peaks and harshest deserts, but their survival is being threatened as the wetlands, where they rest during their flight, are being drained.
The conservation scheme, known as the Siberian Crane Wetland Project, in its tenth year, brings together the four nations, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the International Crane Foundation (ICF) through UNEP.
It is the first of its kind to apply a ‘flyway’ approach to stabilize and sustaining the remaining Siberian Cranes and other waterbirds.
To date, it has played a catalytic role in boosting the conservation and rehabilitation of more than 7 million hectares of wetlands, equivalent to the size of Ireland or 3.5 times the area of Israel.
The project has also helped to improve water supplies for millions of people in the region, including in China and Kazakhstan, where water management planning and wetland restoration have improved.
Other achievements include greater ecological awareness and strong support for conservation, especially in schools and among young people, as well as increased community involvement in the government of wetland reserves in Iran.
“The Siberian Crane Wetland Project underlines how conservation of biodiversity and human concerns go hand in hand: a key point to underline in the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, as a new book, “Safe Flyways for the Siberian Crane,” was launched at a special session of the agency’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Bali, Indonesia.
Not just Siberian Cranes, but also communities and countries depend on wetlands, which act as suppliers and purifiers of drinking water and productive fisheries and also play a key role in protecting against floods and fighting climate change, he added.
The scheme has significantly bolstered the network of wetlands for waterbirds and local communities depending on them.
Around the world, over one third of waterbird populations are stable and 17 are even increasing, while in Asia those figures are 27 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
According to a UNEP news release, the fate of both the birds and the wetlands depends on increased protection and effective water resources management. Even though captive breeding and release back into the wild is a method now being pursued, the survival rate of waterbirds will still depend on the wetlands and safe flyways, the agency said.
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