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Goa pins ‘bird’ing hopes to attract tourists

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Panaji: Goa which houses 400 of India’s 1,100-odd avian species is now banking on the birds in the hope it can spur the arrival of high-end tourists in the state.

Picture credit: dpauls.com
Picture credit: dpauls.com

Avi-tourism, according to Goa tourism ministry officials, will help the state attract high-end tourists through an inherent strength the tropical state always had, but never capitalized on.

“Goa accounts for 400 out of the 1,100-odd bird species in India. This is a fact which is not known to many. We are in the process of promoting birding as a tourism activity in order to attract high-spending tourists to the state. Avi-tourism is generally associated with family tourism, a concept Goa wants to promote,” Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar told IANS.

Conventionally known as a beach tourism destination which attracts three million tourists every year, Goa’s relatively unexplored hinterland is dotted by five wildlife sanctuaries and one bird sanctuary.

While beasts like the Great Indian Gaur, Royal Bengal Tiger, leopards, panthers, cheetals and blue bulls are already an attraction, the tourism department aims to add more focus to the areas by formally introducing the concept of birding.

For now, Goa has four Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by the global programme of the Bombay Natural History Society in tandem with Britain’s Bird Life International – namely Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Carambolim Lake, in addition to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.

Picture credit: goa-tourism.com
Picture credit: goa-tourism.com

The tourism department, in association with the forest department, is also trying to include three more IBAs – Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary and Navelim wetlands in Bicholim – for those keen on avi-tourism.

“Goa has greater potential for avi-tourism than is currently being realized. Goa offers the perfect setting for ornithologists and bird-watchers, which would include fanatics for the highly specialized ones and those who are into it as a hobby,” Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) chairman Nilesh Cabral said.

“Avi-tourism has attracted attention in recent years as an environmentally-friendly activity,” he added.

The tourism department has already tied up with the Bird Institute of Goa, an autonomous society based in Panaji, to promote ornithological interest in the state. The combine would develop bird trails in Goa for tourists.

The GTDC has also resolved to rename 45 rooms at a tourist residency near Old Goa, a popular tourist site close to the Salim Ali bird sanctuary that it operates, after birds found in the area.

The months of October to February are the richest when it comes to avian diversity in Goa, especially on account of the wide range of migratory birds which flock to Goa’s wetland hot spots – namely, the painted stork (mycteria leucocephala), asian openbill (anastomus oscitans), black stork, (ciconia nigra), woolly-necked stork (ciconia episcopus), white stork (ciconia) and the like.

The state’s exotic avian list also includes the frog mouth bird, blue-eared kingfisher, collared kingfisher, Malabar grey hornbill, grey-headed bulbul, rufous babbler and the state bird – the flame-throated bulbul.

Goa Tourism’s avi-tourism ambitions may also get a shot in the arm from the Konkan Railway corporation’s plans to further develop the Carambolim Lake – known as a home for a wide variety of bird-life, including migratory birds – as a birding hub by planting more trees bearing fruits like mangos, almonds, cashewnuts and chikoos around and along the Karmali station, located alongside the lake.

The lake is home to bids like purple heron, gray heron, jacana, pintail, indian stork, cuckoo, waterfowl, egrets, moorhen, lesser whistling teal, shoveler, garganey, red-rumped swallow and the coot – and, in the recent past, even the pink flamingo.

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Rescue Efforts For Wild Puerto Rican Parrot In Motion

Scientists also are now collecting new data on the number of predators at El Yunque, including el guaraguao, a red-tailed hawk that hunts Puerto Rico parrots.

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Puerto Rican Parrot
A Puerto Rican parrot eats inside one of the flight cages in the Iguaca Aviary at El Yunque, Puerto Rico, where the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service runs a parrot recovery program in collaboration with the Forest Service and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, VOA

Biologists are trying to save the last of the endangered Puerto Rican parrots after more than half the population of the bright green birds with turquoise-tipped wings disappeared when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and destroyed their habitat and food sources.

In the tropical forest of El Yunque, only two of the 56 wild birds that once lived there survived the Category 4 storm that pummeled the U.S. territory in September 2017. Meanwhile, only 4 of 31 wild birds in a forest in the western town of Maricao survived, along with 75 out of 134 wild parrots living in the Rio Abajo forest in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, scientists said.

And while several dozen new parrots have been born in captivity and in the wild since Maria, the species is still in danger, according to scientists.

 

Puerto Rican Parrots
Parrot eating a fruit. Flickr

 

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Gustavo Olivieri, parrot recovery program coordinator for Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources.

Federal and local scientists will meet next month to debate how best to revive a species that numbered more than 1 million in the 1800s but dwindled to 13 birds during the 1970s after decades of forest clearing.

The U.S. and Puerto Rican governments launched a program in 1972 that eventually led to the creation of three breeding centers. Just weeks before Maria hit, scientists reported 56 wild birds at El Yunque, the highest since the program was launched.

But the population decline is now especially worrisome because the parrots that vanished from El Yunque were some of the last remaining wild ones, said Marisel Lopez, who oversees the parrot recovery program at El Yunque for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Puerto Rican Parrot
These two Puerto Rican parrots were photographed at the aviary in El Yunque National Forrest after Hurricane Maria. Flickr

“It was devastating. After so many years of having worked on this project…,” she stopped talking and sighed.

The Puerto Rican Amazon is Puerto Rico’s only remaining native parrot and is one of roughly 30 species of Amazon parrots found in the Americas. The red-foreheaded birds grow to nearly a foot in length, are known for their secrecy and usually mate for life, reproducing once a year.

More than 460 birds remain captive at the breeding centers in El Yunque and Rio Abajo forests, but scientists have not released any of them since Hurricane Maria. A third breeding center in a forest in the western rural town of Maricao has not operated since the storm. Scientists are now trying to determine the best way to prepare the parrots for release since there are such few birds in the wild they can interact with, and whether Puerto Rico’s damaged forests can sustain them.

One proposal scientists

Puerto Rican Parrot
When in flight, some of the PR Parrots show their beautiful blue primary feathers. Flickr

Scientists are tentatively planning to release 20 birds next year in Rio Abajo.

Another proposal is to release more parrots in Maricao, which was not as heavily damaged by Maria.

“Our priority now is not reproduction. … it’s to start releasing them,” Lopez said, adding that breeding centers can hold only so many parrots.

But first, scientists need to make sure the forests can offer food and safe shelter.

Jessica Ilse, a forest biologist at el Yunque for the U.S. Forest Service, said scientists are collecting data about the amount of fruit falling from trees and the number of leaves shed. She said the canopy still has not grown back since Maria and warned that invasive species have taken root since more sunlight now shines through. Ilse said that many of the large trees where parrots used to nest are now gone and noted that it took 14 months for El Yunque’s canopy to close after Hurricane Hugo hit Puerto Rico in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.

Puerto Rican Parrot
Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program. Flickr

Scientists also are now collecting new data on the number of predators at El Yunque, including el guaraguao, a red-tailed hawk that hunts Puerto Rico parrots. Without a canopy and proper camouflage, wild parrots have become an easy target.

Ilse said local and federal scientists plan to help the forest recover through planting. By the end of November, they expect to have a map detailing the most damaged areas in El Yunque and a list of tree species they can plant that are more resistant to hurricanes.

Also Read: India To Release 8 Endangered White-Backed Vultures In The Wild

“People keep asking us, ‘How long is it going to take?'” Ilse said.

But scientists don’t know, she added.

“The damage is more extensive than [hurricanes] Hugo and Georges. … It’s been a complete change to the ecosystem.” (VOA)