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Life Times
Change in the air


Despite its relatively small size, Nepal is so strategically located on the boundary between Asia's two eco-biological domains that nearly one in every ten bird species in the world is found here.

Altitude variation in the Himalaya and its climate diversity means that the country has 867 species of birds: more than the entire North American continent.

Bird watchers from all over the world throng to Nepal, but tourism experts say we haven't even scratched the surface of its potential.

Hum Bahadur Gurung of Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) says: "Unlike trekkers who pass through villages and spend less, birdwatchers linger longer in a place and usually spend more."

Birdwatching guides also earn more than trekking guides, and can generate employment and income for local nature clubs. Bird watching is not just limited to tourists, every year BCN organizes bird watching trips where locals, students, hikers and bird lovers walk trails to spot birds.

Jyotendra Thakuri, the Conservation Officer at BCN says students from Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University who want to pursue a career in environmental science are particularly interested as are locals who aim to be bird watching guides.

Yet all is not well in the bird world. Nepal has 27 Important Bird Areas (IBA) and there are 149 species in the endangered list. Climate change has forced birds to change their migratory patterns and the destruction of wetlands and pollution of rivers and lakes has led to dwindling bird populations (see overleaf).

As birds can fly over vast distances to settle where they find most suitable changes in weather cause them to shorten their migratory routes and confine themselves to smaller ranges.

The Ibisbill which once roosted on the banks of Trisuli are now spotted as high as Langtang Valley, proving conservation areas intended for settlement of birds may no longer support them in the next 25 years.

Studies carried out by Birds International predict how climate change may affect the migratory paths of birds. In Nepal alone there are nearly 40,000 points where migratory birds regularly make stopovers. By factoring changes in weather and habitat, researchers have been able to predict how these locations may change in the next 25 years.

Birds play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling the insect population and aiding in seed dispersal, and Hum Gurung feels it is necessary to plan ahead. He says: "We need to not just conserve our current bird population but also be able to adapt to future changes due to climate change."

Read also:
Not just for the birds
Nepal's endangered wetlands are a vital stopover for trans-continental bird migrations

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)