BY VISHAL GULATI
Chandigarh, June 13 (IANS) The ranges of six endemic African stork species that are widespread from East Africa to southern Africa, but have highly fragmented ranges in West Africa , may have fallen by more than 25% in three decades, according to a latest study.
But separate studies in India indicate a steady increase in the woolly-necked stork, which prefers irrigation canals to wetlands.
In Haryana, ornithologists have found quite a large breeding population of storks, even in densely populated villages and towns that have seen agriculture for more than a century.
In Africa, studied stork species that have declined include the African open-billed stork, Abdim’s stork, African woolly-necked stork, saddle-billed stork, marabou stork, and yellow-billed stork. The marabou stork can grow to five feet tall with a wingspan of up to 10 feet.
The researchers assess the status of the species based on new information gathered on the distribution and recommend upgrading the global status of the saddle-billed stork to Near Threatened and West African populations of the saddle-billed stork, stork marabou and yellow-billed stork with threatened status. .
Assessments of the large-scale distributions of six African stork species and their relationships to protected areas were published in Ostrich, the Journal of African Ornithology, and are the result of master’s research by Jonah Gula at Texas State University.
The international team of authors included people from the United States, India and South Africa, led by Gula, who is currently a PhD student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
“Data is widely lacking on the status and distribution of African storks. We have gathered records of these species from secondary sources spanning over 150 years to develop the first distribution maps based on the known occurrence of each species,’ co-author KS Gopi Sundar told IANS. , scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation.
“We used these data to estimate range loss since 1990. We then investigated the relationship between occurrence and the amount of protected areas where storks were recorded,” he said.
“We found that all six stork species were widespread from East Africa to Southern Africa, but most had fragmented ranges in West Africa caused by extinctions in a number of countries, like Mali and Nigeria,” Gula said.
According to the assessment, the range of the African Openbill has potentially decreased by 21%. It is most abundant in East and Southern Africa in major wetland systems, and in West Africa it occurs in lower numbers in predominantly coastal areas.
An isolated population of openbills remains in Sierra Leone and is threatened by the removal of chicks from nests.
The range of Abdim’s stork has potentially decreased by 27%.
As an equatorial migrant, it occurs in huge migratory herds that number in the thousands. While it still remains widespread in West Africa, where it breeds during the rainy season, there is evidence of decline at the periphery of its range in the region.
It has increased in numbers in the southern Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Oman, where groups numbering in the hundreds are now regularly found in winter.
While the range of the saddle-billed stork declined by 28%, it was 26% in the marabou stork and the African woolly-necked stork and 27% in the yellow-billed stork.
Sundar said this study contributes significantly to a rough understanding of the distribution and population status of African storks and has helped identify priority geographic areas for future field efforts.
It also highlights the usefulness of using secondary sources to improve knowledge of understudied large birds such as storks.
“Finally, our work highlights how presumptions about the status of species with large geographic ranges can lead to overlooked regional declines,” Gula said.
According to Sundar, the African study has many similarities with the situation in India.
Storks in India have been classified according to their status without too much detailed study. The woolly-necked stork, for example, was assumed to be negatively impacted by agriculture and was elevated to vulnerable status.
After evidence emerged that the species was doing very well in Indian agricultural areas, the IUCN had to reassign the status to Near Threatened to reflect the actual data.
“It is possible that storks in Africa are doing better than what we are seeing, but the lack of work outside protected areas, as with most species in India, is a major gap that needs to be addressed,” said he declared.
Currently, all bird species have been given IUCN status, although many lack the necessary information to do so.
“The race to place all bird species on the IUCN Red List status is illogical, reduces the scientific reputation of the Red List and is not a good way to understand how birds are doing.
“Bird species without information on their habits and distribution, or with very outdated information, need to be identified so that scientists can work on them and assess their true status. Our article on African storks shows the importance of doing careful assessments,” explained Sundar.
“Our woolly-necked stork nesting work published in a paper was conducted between 2016 and 2020 where we located 298 nests of this species, the largest dataset in the world for this species,” Sundar said, also IUCN Co-Chair. Specialist group of storks, ibises and spoonbills.
“We analyzed this information assuming that storks in Haryana would conform to nest location patterns that have been observed in storks globally, including breeding stork species in Europe and China.”
Storks are large birds that have attracted enormous mythological and scientific attention over the centuries and are closely associated with endangered habitats such as wetlands.
Speaking on the assessment of African storks, Gula told IANS that these storks are very charismatic and an attraction to them dates back to ancient Egypt, where the saddle-billed stork was depicted in hieroglyphics as representing the deity. .
African open-billed storks, Abdim’s storks, and yellow-billed storks were also deified, as evidenced by their mummified remains in Egyptian animal galleries. “I find it surprising that researchers and conservationists have neglected these species for so long,” adds Gula.
Storks nesting on chimneys in Europe are considered a good luck omen. The migration of certain stork species is celebrated every year as one of the most fantastic animal movements across the world.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at )
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