By Aaliya Mir
World Wetland Day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the community have participated in this day. The focus is in raising public awareness of wetland values and their benefits.
Taking this opportunity and keeping in view the importance of wetlands in Kashmir valley, Wildlife SOS in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection department organised an event focussing on spreading awareness among the local people and school children. The event was organised at Hokarsar, a world famous wetland in Kashmir valley just about 10 KM from centre of the Srinagar city. Thousands of migratory birds come here from Siberia and other parts of the world in the winter season. Migratory birds from Siberia and Central Asia use wetlands in Kashmir as their transitory camps between September and October and again around spring. These wetlands play a vital role in sustaining a large population of wintering, staging and breeding birds.
There was a time when the wetlands of Hokersar spread over 13.75 km2 (5.31 sq mi). However, secondary to encroachment and urban growth, this wetland has been reduced to less than 5 square kmâ€™s. Among many species of birds, some of the important birds found in Hokarsar are Mallards,Shovlers,Common Teal, Poachrad, Ruddy Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Pintail Eurasian Wigeon and many others.
The celebration ceremony started with a welcome song from the kindergarten students of Oasis Child Development centre. This was followed by a welcome address from Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir Mr.M.A.Tak. Speaking on the occasion, Ex Chief Wildlife Warden, Jammu and Kashmir Mr. Abdul Rashid Wani stressed the importance of the active participation of the local people for the conservation of the fragile environment. He quoted few verses from Holy Quran which describes the importance of valuable gifts of nature which includes these wetlands and the need for their conservation. Officiating at the celebration ceremony, the guest of Honour Mr.A.K.Singh, Chief Wildlife Warden, J&K laid emphasis on the importance of the wetlands and the needs for taking steps which will save these wetlands from being wiped out. He mentioned about various wetlands of the Kashmir valley which have lost their sanctity of being active reserves for the migratory birds because of encroachment. He said “The department is committed to promoting the functions and value of wetlands. To achieve our goals, we will work closely with our stakeholders including the business sector, non-governmental organisations, district bodies, schools and volunteers.”
Also speaking at the ceremony, the Chief guest Mr.Shiekh Ejaz Iqbal, Commissioner Secretary Forest Department reminded visitors of the interdependence of wetlands and water management. He said, “Wetlands are a crucial provider of water as they store water like giant sponges, and slowly release water for human and wildlife consumption. Wetlands are also natural filters. Wetlands provide a clean source and store of fresh water.â€
A message from the Forest Minister Mr. Mian Altaf was also read publicly on the occasion and the postal department in presence of Shri N.D.Prajapati, SSPO, Srinagar released a special cover on the day.
Later the students of various institutes were taken in the boats around the Hokarsar wetland to experience the richness of the wetlands first-hand. For most, it was the first time they had a chance to witness the beauty of the flocks of wintering birds. For Moazzam Qadri, A 12th class student of Tyndale Biscoe School, the sighting of the birds was a mesmerising experience and he said â€œThis place is a natural heritage and it should be passed on to us and our future generations in the same shape if not in the better one.â€
It has been a continuous effort by the Wildlife SOS to pass on the awareness to our young children regarding Nature and Natural resources so that they take the message home.