Indian Kashmir begins bird census at Himalayan wetlands

HOKERSAR, India -- A meticulous counting of waterbirds began Tuesday in the wetlands and marshes of India's portion of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which attracts species migrating from as far as northern Europe and Japan.

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More than 100 wildlife officials and volunteers were performing the region's second formal census, after scientists for years criticized less formal counts as unreliable.

Since last year, however, Kashmir's wildlife officials have been working as part of the global effort led by environment groups in accounting for the world's waterbirds.

"In earlier years, let's admit, it was always an estimation, a guess work," wildlife warden Imtiyaz Lone said. "Now we're counting birds in a proper scientific way according to the internationally accepted guidelines."

Last year's census counted over half a million waterbirds visiting 13 wetlands in Kashmir. This year's two-day count includes up to 21 wetlands. The results will be released in about a month.

Experts have said they expect the total number of birds visiting is declining because of habitat degradation and climate changes including more erratic rainfall.

"We're already witnessing substantial decline in the numbers. Unfavourable climate coupled with lesser precipitation this year are the major factors to this declining trend," Lone said.



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