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Important Bird Areas in India

One of the great pleasures of growing old is to share in the success of institutions and persons associated with them. Recently I was privileged to be a part of the release function of Important Bird Areas in India: Priority Sites for Conservation.
In 40 years of being associated with birds and birding, I have seldom come across important events. The rediscovery of the Jerdon’s Courser and the Forest Owlet were some of them, as was the publication of the 10 volumes on Indian birds by Drs. Dillon Ripley and Sálim Ali.

I would now rank the culmination of this important project undertaken by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to be at par with the aforementioned events. It is an almost impossible task to create a directory of Important Bird Areas (IBA) in India. A new national network of bird conservationists had to be created: the Indian Bird Conservation Network. The very fact that over 3,000 persons have been acknowledged gives an indication of the enormity of this undertaking. Over 80 NGOs and organisations have all joined hands with volunteers, photographers and the BNHS core team to produce over 1,100 pages of valuable information on important bird areas in India.

It just goes to show that when there is a will (not to mention a generous sponsorship from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others), nothing can come in the way of disseminating important information. The book starts with an overview of biodiversity and vegetation characteristics of India followed by a summary of the avifauna of the region before discussing in detail the regional avifauna of habitats such as islands, deserts, coasts as well as geographic areas like the Eastern Ghats, Deccan peninsula, et al. Then it moves on to a small chapter on wildlife legislation and policies as they exist.

The objectives and methods of the India IBA programme are examined and the processes involved in the identification and selection of IBAs are discussed. The background to the GIS mapping that is included for each site is also explained. The introductory part of the book concludes with an analysis of the IBAs. There is an incidental chapter called ‘Some Burning Issues’ and I can recommend Ashish Kothari and Neema Pathak’s ‘Can Communities Protect Important Bird Areas’. Neeraj Vagholikar’s ‘Undermining India’s Ecologically Sensitive Areas’ is also well written.

The book then moves on to discussing IBAs in different states in India. Each state has a general introduction with an all-important map showing location and landcover. A list of threatened birds with IBA site codes is provided as well as a list of species that the particular state is important for. Threats and conservation issues are also discussed. Detailed references are provided and key contributors thanked. Each IBA is then discussed individually. A map, along with a species or habitat (or both) photograph is given. The general description, avifauna, other fauna, land use, threats and conservation are then talked about at length.

465 IBAs have been identified and it is important to note, with trepidation, that 198 of them lack any official protection. As work continues and as newer editions of this book come out, more and more IBAs will be included. The quality of production and design are more than excellent and a welcome change from the slip-shod work produced hitherto by the organisation. I hope that the BNHS will keep up the exacting standards that they have now set for themselves. I think all nature lovers in India should join hands in congratulating Dr. Asad Rahmani (Principal Investigator) and Zafar-ul Islam (Project Manager) and the entire team that have got together to produce this important and monumental document.

Editors: M. Zafar-ul Islam and Asad R. Rahmani, Published by: Bombay Natural History Society,
Hard Cover. Price: Rs.3,000/-

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