A West Siberian crane takes flight. In the 1980s, there were at least 280 cranes which wintered in the Keoladeo Nature Reserve near Agra in India. By 2012, the population had sunk to just 18 birds. The birds are being killed during their passage to the wintering grounds in Iran and Pakistan. Picture: hosdom.ru

12 August 2015 (The Siberian Times) – Only a 'few pairs' of the West Siberian population of the Siberian crane now remain in the lower reaches of the Ob River, warned Dr Lev Vartapetov, deputy director of the Institute of Systematics and Ecology of Animals in Novosibirsk.

'The last birds are killed during their passage to  the wintering grounds in Iran and Pakistan. There, the Siberian crane is not protected and it is very difficult to establish contacts for the protection of birds in these countries.'

In the 1980s, there were at least 280 cranes which wintered in the Keoladeo Nature Reserve near Agra in India. By 2012, the population had sunk to just 18 birds.

The same year, President Putin took part in an audacious exercise to persuade captivity-bred cranes to migrate from the Yamal peninsula in Western Siberia to central Asia, rather than Iran or Pakistan.

He flew in a hang-glider to lead six Siberian cranes in flight in September 2012. However, the cranes failed to take the hint and did not go south that year.

The crisis is in marked contrast with Siberian cranes in the Sakha Republic - or Yakutia - which winter in China.

'The population is stable both in breeding areas in Yakutia and in the wintering grounds in China,' said Dr Vartapetov. 'Siberian ornithologists cooperate with the Chinese over conservation of birds. In total in Yakutia live about 200 pairs of Siberian Cranes. Chinese scientists have counted about  2,000 cranes in the wintering grounds.'

Experts are working at Oka State Nature Reserve  in Ryazan region work is underway to 'restore the fading Western Siberian population' of cranes, he said. Meanwhile, strong warnings have been issued in Pakistan over the threat to the birds.

In January, Kashif Majeed Salik, a senior official of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), expressed the fear over a growing trend of illegal shooting of migratory Siberian cranes and Bustards in winter.

'If the practice continues, extinction will be the ultimate fate for the endangered migratory birds which would also badly hit the eco-system,' he said. The cranes were being 'hunted indiscriminately', he said.

Ten months ago, newspaper The Nation warned that 'up to 25,000 Siberian cranes are killed or trapped in the country due to excessive hunting', citing a revealing analysis by Divisional Forest Officer Wildlife Abdul Halim who spoke at a gathering of hunters. [more]

Fears of extinction for West Siberian cranes due to cruel hunting in Iran and Pakistan

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