Pioneering bird-ringing capacity-building at Nagrota Surian, Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh, India
South Asia is well known for its great avian diversity, with more than 1,330 species recorded (Grimmett et al. 2012), many of them Western Palearctic species that follow the Central Asian Flyway to winter in India. India therefore has a big responsibility to conserve not only its own unique biodiversity, but also the species that it hosts periodically. The Indian government, represented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, has officially recognised this dual role by signing two important international agreements- the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Migratory Species. To help meet these agreements, India has set up an extensive network of protected areas, including 26 Ramsar sites, and led the development of the Central Asian Flyway Action Plan for the Conservation of Waterbirds and their Habitats in 2005, revised in 2012 (UNEP/CMS/CAF3/Report 2012). Two of the key objectives of the plan are to initiate large-scale bird-ringing programmes and to encourage participating countries to establish an international network of specialists and organisations involved in research, strengthened through the appointment of national coordinators. However, despite attempts by the government to implement the Central Asian Flyway Action Plan, it still requires considerable additional efforts to ensure that it is implemented effectively.
Over the past 40 years the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and its teams, who have pioneered bird-ringing in India, have ringed almost half a million birds in total, including over 250,000 waterbirds at nine major wetlands, with 1,800 recoveries. By 2000, 180 people had been trained throughout India (Buceros 2000) but, although there are no recent official figures, the number of ringers in India today probably still does not exceed 250. This is in stark contrast to Europe, where each year approximately 5 million birds are ringed by thousands of qualified amateur bird-ringers (Kestenholz et al. 2007, Walker et al. 2015).
It seems clear that if India wishes to initiate a large-scale bird-ringing programme, like the one operating in Europe, hundreds of Indian bird-ringers must be trained. At the same time, ringing projects in India should follow a science-based approach, the coordination of the existing Indian Ringing Scheme should be improved and data management professionalised. Through our informal interactions with bird researchers and amateur birdwatchers, the authors are aware that Indian birdwatchers are very interested in becoming ringers, but there is a lack of regular training workshops where the necessary skills can be learned.