The Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary near Jamnagar in Gujarat and Bakhira Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh have been listed as Wetlands of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
The announcement by the Ramsar secretariat in Iran came on the eve of International Wetlands Day (February 2). With this, the total number of Ramsar sites in India goes up to 48.
Khijadiya, which is part of the Central Asian Flyway, has become the fourth wetland of Gujarat to get the Ramsar tag. Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, Thol Wildlife Sanctuary and Wadhwana wetland are the other Ramsar sites in the state. The last two were included in April last year.
Highlighting the importance of the Khijadiya sanctuary for avifauna, a Ramsar release said: “As one of the important waterbird habitats in North-West India, the Site provides breeding, feeding and roosting grounds for a wide range of resident aquatic and also land-based birds. It provides habitat for over 310 bird species, including 125 waterbirds; over 165,000 individual waterbirds have been counted. These include the endangered Pallas’s fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) and Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis), and the vulnerable common pochard (Aythya ferina). The Site also regularly supports more than 1% of the south and south-west Asian population of Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), more than 2% of greylag goose (Anser anser) and more than 20% of common crane (Grus grus).”
Khijadia Wildlife Sanctuary (Ramsar site No. 2464), a freshwater wetland near the coast of the Gulf of Kutch, was formed following the creation of a bund (dike) in 1920 by the then ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Nawanagar to protect farmlands from saltwater ingress. The sanctuary is now part of Marine National Park, Jamnagar, the first marine national park in the country.
“More than 180 plant species are present, including the critically endangered Indian bdellium-tree (Commiphora wightii). The Site contributes to the maintenance of hydrological regimes, erosion protection and nutrient cycling. It is used for recreation and tourism, and scientific and educational activities,” the Ramsar release further said.
On the other hand, Bakhira Wildlife Sanctuary (site no. 2465), a freshwater marsh in the Sant Kabir Nagar district, is the largest natural floodplain wetland of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Sanctuary was established in 1980 and is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972); an “eco-sensitive zone” extends up to a kilometre around its boundary.
“The wetland is internationally important for its birdlife as it supports over 80 species. It provides a wintering ground for over 25 species that migrate on the Central Asian Flyway, some of which are threatened or near-threatened such as the endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the vulnerable greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), common pochard (Aythya ferina) and swamp francolin (Francolinus gularis), and the near-threatened oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus),” the Ramsar release added.
This wetland, the release further added, also supports 119 plant species and 45 species of fish: it is home to the vulnerable European carp (Cyprinus carpio) and the catfish Wallago attu, and the near-threatened Gangetic ailia (Ailia coila) and silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). The site is also used for recreation and tourism and contributes to food supply and nutrient cycling.