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Racing To Meet The Deadline On Ecosystem Restoration


Human interventions in the form of mass deforestation – as is fairly evident in the hill districts of Kangpokpi and Senapati for instance – and the negative impact on wetlands – such as Lamphelpat, Porompat, Loktak for example – has induced species loss, both birds, animals and fishes.


By Salam Rajesh

The world is at loggerheads currently on issues that are being considered critical for the survival of species and the urgency on the need to restore ecosystems fast enough to avoid losing assets of the natural world, given the understanding that the world is losing species at an alarming rate as ecosystems deteriorate primarily through large scale human interventions that are negative in context and in purpose.

The context setting is that as ecosystems deteriorate due to large scale deforestation for commercial activities and extractive industries, species that are crucial in maintaining the natural equilibrium gets phased out as fast as the eye can blink. This gives the basis for the world community to work fast to revive ecosystems so as to sustain life as it should be in the very first place.

The concern on species loss has been highlighted by several international organizations specializing on species studies. Among these is the Birdlife International which looks critically on birds as biological indicator of ecosystems that either are thriving or dying, bereft of policies to halt the increasingly growing influence of humans in nature reserves.

Birdlife International is the official Red List Authority for birds across the several continents. The BirdLife’s Red List team regularly reassesses the conservation status of the world’s 11,000 species of birds, incorporating the latest data to ensure they are categorised correctly and identifying threatened species in greatest need of conservation action.

The BirdLife’s latest update to the IUCN Red List of species indicate that recent satellite imageries show rapid forest loss in many parts of the tropics, and this has led to ‘a suite of forest-dependent bird species being moved to higher extinction risk categories’.

As is highlighted in BirdLife International’s recent flagship report on the “State of the World’s Birds”, it is explicitly provided that the natural world is currently at a crisis point, with ‘nearly half of the world’s bird species in decline and one in eight species threatened with extinction’. The latest IUCN Red List update underlines the urgency on the need to up-scale conservation efforts worldwide.

The global environmental watchdog Global Forest Watch working with the BirdLife’s Red List team has reassessed how much forest loss has occurred ‘within the ranges of thousands of forest-dependent bird species over the last 20 years’.

As is put on record by the GFW the data indicates that in many areas across the globe, forest loss has been more rampant than previously feared, and this is reflected in the year 2022’s Red List update, evident from the fact that multiple forest-dependent species have been moved to higher extinction risk categories.

Dr Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator (Species) at BirdLife International, says on the situation that, “These changes to the IUCN Red List reflect the urgency of conserving tropical forests and the need to end, and ultimately reverse, deforestation”.

The year 2022’s Red List update underlines the crucial point that climate change ‘can no longer be thought of as a problem for the future’, with its impacts already having a devastating effect on many species across continents. This concern is reflected in this year’s updates as in Australia, a country that has experienced numerous droughts, heat waves and wild fires in these past years – with some of the worst cases in recent years.

Quite antagonising for the world community at large, the Birdlife’s assessment has more of a pessimistic outlook on how things are evolving, wherein it reflects that, “In response to warming climates, mountain species are often forced to move to higher elevations to seek the cooler temperatures to which they are adapted. However, there is naturally a limit to how high species can go, and for several birds endemic to the montane tropical rainforests of north-east Australia, this limit is seemingly being reached. With nowhere else to go, climate change is acting as an escalator to extinction and has seen the conservation status of multiple species deteriorate”.

The report again reflects upon the sense of urgency that the United Nations has focused on its UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration within which it had urged the world community to give priority on ecosystem restoration fast enough in this decade (2021-2030) before humanity and the blue planet find itself in dire straits.

Ecosystem deterioration is naturally linked to loss in species as and when forest and wetland ecosystems are lost, species that are dependent on the forests and the wetlands to thrive find their habitats gone and ultimately they get phased out in the absence of their food resources.

Decline in the natural space, and ecosystems, as more and more human intrusion for settlements, urbanization, and commercial activities gain ground, species are driven to the brink of extinction. The high level of pollution, use of chemicals in agriculture, the degradation of water resources, the removal of forest lands to give way to highways and new townships, the reclamation of wetlands for farming and settlements, all have contributed their mite in driving species towards extinction.

Wise use of wetlands and the long term conservation of pristine landscapes like the tropical rainforests are flagged by different international organizations as priority in the global effort to save species from extinction. The Birdlife’s assessment fairly gives the impression that species loss is more profound in the tropical setting of Asia, as in Indonesia and Malaysia where there are evident cases of mass forest depletion for commercial activities.

Manipur is, of course, no exception to this discussion on species loss. Human interventions in the form of mass deforestation – as is fairly evident in the hill districts of Kangpokpi and Senapati for instance – and the negative impact on wetlands – such as Lamphelpat, Porompat, Loktak for example – has induced species loss, both birds, animals and fishes.

Many species of birds, for instance the Sarus crane and the Pink-headed duck are no longer reported in the Loktak Lake area. In the mountainscape, the sighting of the Mrs. Hume Bar-backed pheasant has become extremely rare. The tiger in Manipur is almost a foregone conclusion, and so are the rhinos that were once sighted in the State. When humans play gods, ecosystems and species are the natural victims.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])


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