In India, especially in the northern parts, this is a period of spring. A much-favored time for the visit of migratory birds, who migrate every year along global flyways between continents in search for breeding grounds in Europe, to warmer feeding grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. But due to habitat loss, land reclamation, poaching and changes in global agricultural pattern the migratory birds have suffered significantly across the world.
However, due to COVID-19 threat humans are forced to stay inside their houses and as a result nature is reviving. Two major contributors to this revival are: lowering of pollution level, and limited human interference. Migratory birds can fly freely without human interference or threat. This article explores the protection to their life and existence was acknowledged under various international documents.
International protection for flyways
Billions of birds of the avian world migrate vast distances across the globe twice a year. Avian species migrate along mainly similar and well-established routes known as flyways. The idea of a structured instrument for the flyway was first suggested in the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) document of 1983. A flyway is broadly defined as the migration route of a population, species or group of species of birds, between a breeding area, through a series of staging sites (passage) and non- breeding area (wintering area).The Ramsar Convention, 1971 (Ramsar Convention) provides for the protection of many important areas for migratory waterfowl, especially in the Western Palearctic region and in North and West Africa. Most of the States falling in these regions are parties to Ramsar Convention.
The Agreement of African–Eurasian Flyway(AEWA) stretches from Canada and the Russian Federation to the southernmost tip of Africa, covering 119 range-States covering Europe, parts of Asia and Canada, the Middle East and Africa. Currently, 77 countries and the European Union are contracting party to AEWA.
The Central Asian Flyway(CAF) covers migration routes of waterbirds from the northernmost breeding grounds in the Siberia to wintering grounds in West and South Asia, the Maldives and the Indian Ocean territory. Geographically this flyway region covers thirty countries of North, Central and South Asia and Trans-Caucasus. CAF, is entirely within the Northern Hemisphere, and is the shortest flyway in the world.
The overlap between AEWA and CAF
The overlap between the area of CAF and AEWA was concluded in 1995 at The Hague. It was agreed amongst the governing bodies of these agreements that they will work together to enable the parties in taking informed decision on the implementation or extension of safeguards agreed amongst them. Sixteen out of the thirty countries encompassed by the CAF are located in the AEWA Agreement Area. For instance, during the seasonal movements within the Indian subcontinent, more than 300 species travel along the CAF including bar-headed goose (Anserindicus), the world’s highest altitude migrant. India’s nearly 175 species of migratory birds are using the CAF areas including Siberia, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan and Gulf countries.
Wholesome international convention on protection for migratory birds
In international law, birds are protected within the four broader framework, namelyRamsar Convention, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), 1973, Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), 1979 and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) , 1992.The CITES, multilateral treaty, with twenty-five articles which are treated as ‘Magna Carta’ for wild animals and birds by most of conservationists in the world. It accords varying degrees of protection to more than 33,000 species but only a relatively small number of migratory bird species as Appendix I contains certain birds of prey and cranes and Appendix II includes all birds of prey. The CMS, adopted in Bonn, is an intergovernmental treaty concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats under the aegis of the UNEP.The Convention is therefore applicable to almost 2,000 species of birds, nearly a quarter of all existing species. CMS a powerful instrument aims to conserve not only migratory birds but also migratory terrestrial and marine animals of wide range including fish, reptiles and even insects.CBD was adopted at the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro where 189 countries were the parties. It primarily focus on habitat protection and the term ‘wildlife’ is absent from the treaty whereas CITES regulates commercial trade of wildlife if a particular species is at risk of extinction. Though CMS, 1979 covers maximum number of migratory species but CBD, 1992 is successful one which attracts maximum countries as members. Ramsar Convention is specifically to provide the protection of habitats, more particularly wetlands of international importance as waterfowl habitats.
The Bonn Convention refers to the global conservation of migratory species as far as Appendix I are concerned, and migratory species listed in Appendix II are usually of a regional scope.So far,two regional agreements are formed for conserving Asian-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds(Hague, 1995), and Albatrosses and Petrels (Canberra, 2001).There are seven non-binding memorandum of understandings (MoUs)for Conservation of Siberian Crane (1993),Slender-Billed Curlew (1994), Great Bustard (2001),Aquatic Warbler (2003), Ruddy-Headed Goose (2006),Migratory Grassland Bird (2007), High Andean Flamingos (2008) and Migratory Birds of Prey (2008) have been concluded between states parties.
Early bilateral treaties for migratory birds
Although the first treaty on the protection of birds was signed as early as 1902 in Convention for the Protection of Birds Useful to Agriculture at Paris, migratory species were not specifically until the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds was concluded in 1916 between the United Kingdom (acting for Canada) and the United States. They concluded other treaties with Japan, Australia, China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR now Russia). India has a sole bilateral treaty with USSR on Protection of Migratory Birds (1984) where both parties agreed that special protection measures are desirable to preserve endangered species and subspecies, promote joint research programs and establish bird sanctuaries and endeavor to preserve and improve the natural environment of migratory birds.
From the perusal of above-mentioned international instruments, it is explanatory that migratory birds are subject of international protection. Meanwhile in the light of forthcoming World Migratory Bird Day it is important to realize their rights. For environmentalists these are good times, as their voices are heard, for all the efforts they made to the world to realize the importance of living in harmony with nature, is finally understood. However, humans have short memory and there is a good possibility that the lesson could very well be unlearned soon.