State of world’s migratory species in 2024

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The African wild ass is a threatened savanna mammal. — needpix.com

FREQUENTLY in the news are the plight of human migrants around our world and those especially from developing countries who use unscrupulous human traffickers exploiting the migrants’ desires to seek a better life elsewhere.

Immediately coming to mind are the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, the Africans crossing the Mediterranean by boat to beach on the nearest Italian or Greek islands, and the tens of thousands of migrants crossing the English Channel from France.

Most are victims of persecution, escapees from war zones, or simply searching for perceived greener pastures. In their search for a better life, they cross many frontiers and national boundaries illegally.

So it is with the seasonal migrating animals, marine life, and birds on the wing and again in their search for greener pastures. Their plight, we seldom hear about.

Feb 12-17 this year saw the 14th triennial conference of the relevant parties to meet on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, attended by 133 member states.

It was aptly entitled ‘Nature knows no borders’. This title implies that migratory species do not adhere to political boundaries and that conservation is dependent on transboundary efforts. Having read the whole report and scanned some of its very revealing appendices, I attempt here to highlight some of its findings.

Migratory terrestrial mammals

Ninety-five species of mammals facing habitat loss were considered. Their habitats were affected by land degradation, climate change, unsustainable hunting, and poaching, pollution of various sorts and human structures to include fencing, canal, road, and rail construction, all acting as barriers to the natural movements of wild animals.

The specific animals considered and suffering fate from such are jaguars, straw-coloured fruit bats, chimpanzees, saga antelopes, African wild asses, African elephants, Eurasian and Balkan lynx, guanacos, Palla’s cats, and giraffes.

For the very first-time nomadic pastoralists were discussed by interested parties with nomads taking their herds/flocks, often amounting to thousands of cattle, sheep, goats, through the natural feeding grounds of wild animals thereby increasing an overloading of already scant grazing resources.

Migratory aquatic species

In total 63 species of aquatic mammals were discussed, of which 54 were fish species and nine were reptilian, covering whales, sharks, rays, and turtles.

The topics raised were over exploitation, pollution (including noise and light), deep sea mining, and vessel strikes. The fishermen’s bycatches and aquatic wild meat were also discussed at length. Specific action plans were presented to preserve the Hawksbill turtle (found in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific region), the Humpback dolphin, and the Angel shark in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Hawksbill turtle of Southeast Asia is often found as a bycatch in fishing nets. — Photo by DRVIP93/Wikimedia Commons

It is revealed that 33 per cent of all sharks, rays, and chimeras are threatened with extinction due to overfishing. The conference attempted to stem the mortality rate in by-catches by considering technical ways of reducing the accidental or non-targeted capture of rays and sharks.

Body parts of turtles, crocodiles, sharks, and rays, including their meat, and eggs are consumed either for local subsistence, used in traditional medicine or sold. To offset this illegal trade, alternative ways of providing local fisherfolk with a sustainable income were offered such as eco-tourism.

The preservation of seagrass meadows was discussed mainly because of their productive nature and biodiverse rich habitats, providing nurture for migratory marine species such as dugongs, turtles, and sharks, in an attempt to raise public awareness to support the conservation of these valuable resources.

Shipping vessel strikes on marine species that spend much of their time at or near the surface, such as whale sharks, filter feeding sharks and species of ray, were mapped and reported.

The effects of deep-sea mining deeper than 200 metres were identified as leading to habitat destruction, injury, and death from mining equipment, toxic sedimentation, and underwater noise and surface light pollution.

Migratory birds

Migratory routes span multiple flyways reaching all ends of the Earth. The threats to these birds are manifold and include habitat loss, unsustainable and illegal capture or killing, pollution, collision with buildings and wind electricity generating turbines and climate change.

African birds of prey, especially the savanna raptors, are facing an extinction crisis. Such birds as Ruppell’s vulture, the Steppe eagle, and the Secretary bird all show significant population declines.

The fascinating Secretary bird is facing extinction. — Photo by Christo Kruger/Wikimedia Commons

Action plans were presented to conserve the Sooty falcon in North Africa, the West African vulture, the Great Bustard in Asia, the Christmas Island Frigate bird, the Peruvian pelican, the Magellanic plover, and the Antipodean albatross – all facing extinction.

Outcome of the conference

The conference produced a final report entitled, ‘The Samarkand Strategic Plan for Migrating Species for the period 2024-2032’. This science-based plan was adopted by all representatives and offers guidelines and 23 realistic and attainable set targets for all countries concerned.

Such targets strengthened the resolution on climate change and endorsed the report on the effect of climate change on migratory wildlife. It strengthened the measures to address the illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species and listed actions to be taken to advance ecological connectivity between countries.

New global guidelines addressing the impacts of light pollution on migratory species were issued. Finally new decisions were made on implementing the Wildlife Health Authority’s guidelines to reduce the spread of disease in migratory species.

I hope that I have presented a fair précis of the very many events and meetings that took place at this strategic conference.

Further details may be found on the CMS website www.cms.int and associated links.

I, for one, will now view migratory species of birds both in the UK and in Borneo in a new light!